The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan
Basia rates it: 4 out of 5
I received an ARC of The Waking Fire from a Penguin Random House service known as First To Read, which encourages readers to review books they win but does not require it.
The Waking Fire takes place in a world where the blood of drakes (which are basically dragons) can imbue certain humans who have the ability to use drake blood with enhanced abilities. The ability each offers depends on the type of drake–black, red, green, or blue. I think what I liked best about this novel is that I didn’t feel like we had the “simpleton outsider” trope; I never felt like there was one character who didn’t know anything about the world specifically so the reader could be told things as they were explained to the character. I had to do a lot of inferring about what drake’s blood did what and so on, but I liked that. It’s always refreshing when an author remembers his or her audience have brains and treats them accordingly. There was, of course, a bit of explanation here and there, but I never felt like any of it was too much of an info dump, which is a pitfall most high fantasy books fall into as they try to explain the setting.
This book is long. If you’re not accustomed to long high fantasy novels, I’d suggest steering clear of this until you think you’re ready. The characterization in this novel is spectacular; there are three point-of-view characters, whom the narrative interchanges fairly regularly, and each character felt distinct and tangible. (Also, one of them is a woman.) It’s difficult, sometimes, to come across high fantasy that isn’t plot-driven. I generally prefer character-driven novels, and this is a very good example of how high fantasy can work with a character-driven rather than a plot-driven structure.
Most of my quibbles with this book are fairly small. There are a lot of characters in this book, and many of their names similar. I once knew someone who said she only really took in the first letter of each name, and this book would be hard for her to navigate. It was sometimes difficult to remember which character belonged to what name, especially if I was reading quickly. Also, while a decent amount of the secondary characters were well-constructed, there were a handful on whose personality I couldn’t quite get a grip. I’m hoping this is rectified in later novels. The author also has a tendency to over-describe aspects about which I have no knowledge or any desire to have knowledge, and so I would find myself glazing over sometimes, but that’s more of a personal thing. It wasn’t info-dumping so much as oversharing.
Overall, however, it was a good read. I plan to pick up the second novel when it comes out, and I’ve already recommended it to several people. There were enough dragons (drakes, I should say) to satisfy even me, and while this isn’t a read you can tear through at breakneck pace, it’s engaging and keeps you interested. Ryan does a good job of giving you just enough information to make you feel a bit satisfied but withholding the rest so that you feel compelled to keep going. If you’re into long high fantasy and dragons, I say definitely pick it up!