Raising Fire by James Bennett. Book Review

RAISING FIRE by James Bennett
Orbit, 384 page p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

 One of the problems with writing a series of books is that anything set up in the first volume has the option of coming back to bite. However carefully planned the series arc, once the first book is in print, the author is committed in certain directions with certain characteristics. Learning to avoid these pitfalls is a skill, as is leaving enough blank spaces to clarify and explain the things not thought of in the exhilaration of writing an early draft. Some things, though, cannot be changed without admitting the situation hadn’t been thought through properly and the editor hadn’t picked up on inconsistencies.

The first book in this series, Chasing Embers, introduced us to Red Ben Garston. It is not unusual in fantasy to encounter characters who have lived for hundreds of years. It’s less usual for them to be a dragon that can take human form. To be able to transform from human to dragon is not a problem, after all, dragons are magical creatures. In this case though, the dragon weighs twenty tons. Where does the extra mass come from? And why isn’t there an inrush of air when he changes to the smaller human form?

The premise behind the series is that mythical creatures (called Remnants) did once roam the Earth but because they were causing havoc a Pact was drawn up whereby all myths were put into a deep sleep, except for one member of each race. Ben is the representative dragon. The magic that put the Remnants to Sleep is Fay magic, and they have left, all except Von Hart who is their representative. Fair enough. It isn’t beyond imagination that such an agreement could be made, but to put the onus on the British King John is illogical. He was never in a position of sufficient influence, even his barons had the upper hand when he signed the Magna Carta. There were rulers with greater influence at the time, such as the Pope and the Emperor of China.

Another problem was the concept of the Pact being initiated throughout the world. Raising Fire does go some way to explain this suggesting that Von Hart travelled around the world putting the Remnants to sleep over a period of sixty years. The instrument that created the magic was a Fay harp which was subsequently broken into pieces. Von Hart has kept one, the others being in the care of the Whispering Chapter (a religious order) and the Guild of the Broken Lance (an order of knights). While they are separate, the Remnants cannot be awoken.

As Raising Fire opens, Ben is trying to resist the summons of a piece of the harp by getting drunk, but ultimately fails. The Whispering Chapter have decided that he must stand trial (with the foregone conclusion that he will be executed) for breaking the Pact due to the events in Chasing Embers. They also want to know where Von Hart is having decided that the pieces of the harp are better together in their care. Escaping, Ben decides that finding Von Hart himself would be a good idea. Before he has a chance to locate him, he realizes that Von Hart has awoken another dragon, one that was put to Sleep in China. Mauntgraul is a deadly enemy, the white dragon that fought with Ben’s red dragon over Wales. Such is the other dragon’s ferocity and bloodlust that Ben feels that he must deal with that situation first.

The new significant character here is Jia Jing. She is sin-you and in her mythical form resembles a unicorn. She is the representative of her kind and has been trained by Von Hart. She wants the pieces of harp for different reasons and Ben gradually realizes that they have both been set up by the Fay. If he gets all the pieces of the harp and remakes it, he can wake all the Remnants (legitimately as the Pact has been broken) and create havoc. Ben wants to save the world from that outcome.

The action crosses the Northern hemisphere from London to China (several times) with stops in Paris, the Italian Alps and Hong Kong. People die, building get erased before the final denouement. If what you want for a few hours of light reading is mayhem with dragons then you will probably enjoy this despite the purple prose. It is an interesting idea but the execution leaves much to be desired.