Children of Fire
Okay, so, we all know that high fantasy usually isn’t my thing – at least not when it comes to books anyway. I’m trying to change, though. I am trying to embrace fantasy and enlighten myself. I already enjoy fantasy settings in video games (though I do tend to disregard magic in them) and I like the Game of Thrones television series. The books, too, up until they just got way too horribly depressing. Considering my love of mainstream video games, I figured that Children of Fire would be perfect for me then considering Derw Karpyshyn’s impressive resume.
If you’re not familiar with the name you should be familiar with these others: Baldur’s Gate, Jade Empire, Neverwinter Nights, and a few little things called Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. He also wrote a few other books before releasing Children of Fire that served as Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, and Star Wars tie-ins. Children of Fire is his first original book and the first in a series.
Anyway, the point of all that is to say that if you’re looking at Children of Fire and thinking, “Eh, maybe I’ll give it a try,” then you should give it a try. The guy knows what he’s doing when it comes to crafting a story and dialogue at the video game level and he’s been trusted enough to write tie-ins for some pretty key series. If that doesn’t speak volumes about his ability I don’t know what else does. Except, you know, good reviews. Which, if you’ve done your research, you’ll see that Children of Fire has done pretty well for itself.
But, of course, you came here to read my review and not look around for others. So let me do you a solid and just say that if you’re a fantasy fan – and even if you’re just sort of a fantasy fan – give it a read. You won’t be disappointed. This book is a solid 3.5 or 3.75 for me – though sadly our current rating scale only allows for solid stars and I’m not quite willing to commit to a 4 just yet. It’s close. So close. Drew Karpyshyn has really put together a great book here.
I mean, the guy has his story pretty well established and his world building is just as good as his mythology. Here’s a brief except from the GoodReads synopsis:
Long ago the gods chose a great hero to act as their agent in the mortal world and to stand against the demonic spawn of Chaos. The gods gifted their champion, Daemron, with three magical Talismans: a sword, a ring, and a crown. But the awesome power at his command corrupted Daemron, turning him from savior to destroyer. Filled with pride, he dared to challenge the gods themselves. Siding with the Chaos spawn, Daemron waged a titanic battle against the Immortals. In the end, Daemron was defeated, the Talismans were lost, and Chaos was sealed off behind the Legacy—a magical barrier the gods sacrificed themselves to create.
Now the Legacy is fading. On the other side, the banished Daemron stirs. And across the scattered corners of the land, four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Daemron himself—wizard, warrior, prophet, king.
The four children are the titular ‘Children of Fire’ and throughout the book you meet each of them, watch them grow up, and see them come into their own. You have Keegan, the farmer’s son; Cassandra, the highborn changeling; Scythe, the slave girl’s daughter who was raised by a physician; and, lastly, Vaaler, the Daanan prince with no powers of his own and a kingdom that may never trust him without them. Each child’s backstory is told through a series of time jumping chapters that finally bring them all together in one thread around their eighteenth birthdays. Each one suffers numerous personal tragedies and these experiences define them. I liked that each character was given plenty of time to develop their stories and personalities. I’m also glad that they did so largely apart from one another. Through the heretic wizard Rexol there are common threads for some of the characters as Cassandra, Vaaler, and later Keegan all studied under him and while Vaaler eventually has to return home he’s still connected to the main narrative through his relationship with Keegan. The characters in this book – including a lot of the secondary characters – are just so well developed and they really drove the book for me. I mean, I loved Scythe’s barbarian lover and her relationship. It was nice to see something like that. Something good.
Another one of the things that was nice was that all of the children were – for the most part – from different walks of life and lived in various different parts of the world. We got to see a lot more of it than we might have otherwise though it would have been nice if the map on my Kindle were zoomable because at times the world seemed a bit hard to keep track of the way it was explained. I mean, it’s an interesting world that they live in where magic is so prevalent and yet so distrusted. They live in a world where their kind – in the case of the magic users – are shunned and heavily regulated. You either join with the only officially sanctioned magic users (who gouge out their natural eyes and live as blind monks using only magic to see which is, you know, absolutely crazy) or you run to the free cities who aren’t that much more likely to be all that happy with you, either. I’m not going to lie. That part was kind of Dragon Age-y. The Daanan, too, screamed Qunari at me which probably means I just need to finish Dragon Age II already. But their culture was cool and I kind of liked the way it was established even though I’m totally with Vaaler that this whole isolationist thing isn’t really going to keep working for them.
I think some of the problems that I had with the book were more just… problems on my end. I didn’t really like Rexol as a character and I did like the others. I don’t know why people kept giving him children that could potentially be saviors of the world because it seems to me like he really wasn’t a good choice. I mean, they all turned out okay despite him (except I guess Cassandra) but still. It was frustrating. I was very happy when his storyline was ultimately resolved. Equally frustrating at times was just all the bits with Daemon back on the other side of the legacy. For the main antagonist and the main reason any of this is happening at all, he just didn’t really speak to me at all. Those were my least favorite parts of the entire book. Every time we switched from the kids to Daemron it felt like I was reading out of obligation. It was important to know what he was doing, yeah, but I still didn’t really care that much. I just wasn’t nearly as excited about them or interested in them as I was the rest of the book.
For the most part, though, I really did enjoy Children of Fire. Even if at times I felt it was playing it a bit too safe by sticking to some of the classic fantasy tropes. (I mean, someone loses a hand… people always lose hands! It’s getting old!) That said, I am way more invested in this series than I am Game of Thrones at this point. (Well, the book series – maybe not the television series because damn is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau fine.) I’m really looking forward to the sequel. Especially considering the cliffhanger they left us on in Daanan, dude. Seriously. And what about Cassandra? We can’t just not know what’s going on there. Shit is going to go down next book. I almost wish I had read this book later when it was closer to the release date for the sequel.
As it stands now, I must wait on in agony.
Children of Fire is a great first novel from a man whose done some pretty fantastic work in the video game community. It’s a great romp through traditional high fantasy elements with a pretty classic story of good and evil being set up. However, I have this feeling that Karpyshyn is really going to do something that turns around and surprises all of us. I’m waiting for it. You’re going to want to be waiting for it, too. At over five hundred pages it’s a solid investment and you’ll get through it pretty quick. You won’t want to put it down if you can avoid it.