Book Review: The Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoria #1) by Anthony Ryan (published by Orbit)
This is one dense fantasy novel! There’s a lot going on, and a lot to take in but I really enjoyed it. The Waking Fire is set in a world where there are still ‘empires’ in the traditional sense but also ‘empires’ in terms of a corporate entity that has grown big and powerful. Both the empire and the corporate empire are after the same thing – drake blood, or ‘product’.
The drakes are animals like dragons, and their blood allows select people who are ‘blood-blessed’ to do remarkable things e.g. super speed, healing, creating fire, communicating through mind trances, and telekinesis. There are red, black, blue and green drakes, but the hunt is on for the fabled white drake.
The story follows three point of view characters: Lizanne, a blood-blessed spy who works for the Ironship Trading Syndicate, the corporate body; Hilemore, a second lieutenant in the Ironship’s naval fleet, and Clay, an unregistered blood-blessed thief with a famous uncle and troubled past. Both Lizanne and Clay are sent on the hunt of the white. Clay ventures into the wild ‘interior’ of the country and Lizanne is sent on a mission into a city owned by the Corvantine empire in the same country. Hilemore’s narrative was enjoyable – he’s sent off to battle the Corvantine fleet at sea – but not as engaging as Lizanne and Clay.
The setting is not medieval fantasy, there are guns, machinery, ‘steam’-powered boats and trains that are powered by blood-blessed who use red product to produce fire. It is described as ‘steampunk flavoured’ and it definitely had a modern, industrial revolution kinda feel to it. There is interesting politics and bureaucracy, and the worldbuilding was really solid. This world had a deep and unusual past, both with the humans and also with the drakes.
There is plenty of action, intrigue and adventure, although I did get a teeny bit bored by the couple of warfare/city siege/in the trenches chapters with Lizanne. The characters were all well developed and interesting, and I thought the female characters were really well done. No tokenism here! The corporate world seemed to be gender equal which was great to read.
I enjoyed the writing and pace and will definitely be reading the second book soon. I would recommend this for fantasy fans who enjoy detailed worldbuilding and ‘heavier’ novels which require you to pay attention.
My rating: 5/5
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