Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Waking Fire (Anthony Ryan)

The Waking Fire
(The Draconis Memoria series, Book 1)
Anthony Ryan
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Arradsia's drakes - jungle-dwelling Greens, fiery Reds, aquatic Blues, and elusive Blacks - are the continent's greatest bane and treasure. Deadly predators with poisonous flesh, their refined blood grants temporary abilities to one in a thousand humans who ingest it, the Blood-blessed. Use of and trade in "product" forms the backbone of the continent's corporate power, giving it an edge over other nations. But the captive drakes wither through generations, their blood weak, and the wild population has been decimated by human encroachment. If the companies want to survive, they'll need new product... and some, out of desperation or greed, look afresh to long-lost legends of a fifth drake species deep in the inhospitable Arradsian interior, the never-seen White.
A disaster as a boy revealed Claydon Torcreek's Blood-blessed gift... but chaos and poverty left him to fend for himself in the streets of Carvenport, using his unregistered abilities to steal and cheat a meager living in the slums known as the Blinds. When his cover is blown, Clay's only chance to avoid jail (or worse) is to accept employment with the Ironship Trading Syndicate as part of a secret expedition, retracing the footsteps of the only company crew to ever have reported glimpsing the White, though none lived to return.
Miss Lizette Lethridge was recruited by Ironship at age eight, training at the Academy for espionage work on behalf of the company. Her latest mission has her chasing a mysterious artifact created by a madman, deep in the heart of enemy territory... a mission that will challenge everything she thought she knew about her world, her life, and her mentor.
Lieutenant Corrick Hilemore knew his posting to the Ironship Protectorate Vessel Viable Opportunity wasn't as glorious as a berth on the newest, most flashy vessels, but the retrofitted "blood-burner" ship boasts of being the fastest in the fleet, perfect to hunt the pirates haunting the isles surrounding Arradsia. But greater threats soon emerge, a challenge from the Corvantine empire, testing Hilemore and the crew of the Viable to their limits.
As the hunt for the White unfolds and the world teeters on another intercontinental war, dangerous currents stir. Drake attacks increase, the mutated Spoiled tribes of the Arradsian jungles increase their attacks, and madness seems to grip the the world. Something wakes, a fire that may burn the entire world to ash. Will finding the legendary White stop it, or fan the flames?

REVIEW: This was an impulse buy, the result of a discount coupon and the ever-popular lure of a cover featuring a dragon, plus an intriguing concept. Ryan crafts an intriguing world, if not quite so elaborate as some epic fantasies, plenty solid and interesting enough to sustain a series. Machinery mingles with (what is essentially) magic in a world where some have thrown off old forms of rule and government in favor of a corporate-led nation based on profit and competition, a shift with both good and bad outcomes, though other parts of the world each have their own customs and flavors. I admit some of them were still just names on the page (like a few of the characters) by the end, but the main ones become distinctive entities. Likewise, the characters, each largely on independent paths, are unique enough to readily stand apart, though Hilemore's arc doesn't mingle with the other two for the most part until the very end. All go through some changes, often traumatic, as they each come to realize that something greater is going on than simple corporate profit-chasing or political squabbling. As for the main hook, the drake blood magic, it has shades of Brandon Sanderson's metal-based allomancy in his Mistborn series: each blood has distinct abilities, which characters can exploit in interesting ways, though use has physical (and mental - particularly in the case of Blue, which allows mind-to-mind communications across vast distances) consequences. The story unfolds with plenty of action and intrigue and the odd touch of humor, with only a few lulls and drawn-out bits now and again. I found it a solid read, well worth my money, and I expect I'll be picking up Book 2 when it becomes available (though, pending a coupon and sale, I'll likely wait for paperback.)

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