Yeah, I know, Harry Connolly's debut fantasy novel, Child of Fire
, came out a year ago (today!), and the sequel, Game of Cages
, is already out as we speak, but I'm always late to the party.
I wish I weren't, though, because frankly, Child of Fire
is exactly the kind of fantasy I like: dark and gritty with a contemporary setting. For whatever reason, the "magical kingdom" brand of fantasy just doesn't do it for me anymore the way it did in my youth. If a book opens with a map of an imaginary land, if it includes a glossary of fantasy terms in the back, and if the cast of characters features elves, dwarves and centaurs with unpronounceable names containing random apostrophes, it's so not for me. Maybe it's a political thing--I'm just not into monarchies, feudal societies and heroic nobility. Or maybe I've just grown out of them. I read a hell of a lot of these kinds of fantasy novels in high school and college. Way too many of them took place in Xanth. The shame, it burns.
So it seems urban fantasy is more my bag. Or, in this case, rural fantasy, because despite the misleading cityscape on the cover, Child of Fire
takes place in a small Pacific Northwest town called Hammer Bay. Ray, a car thief turned chauffeur, and his boss Annalise, a tiny woman strong enough to rip a man's head off with her bare hands, have come to Hammer Bay on a mission to find out why children are burning to death and then being completely forgotten by the townspeople. Ray and Annalise work for the Twenty Palace Society, an organization of sorcerers that hunts down and kills unauthorized users of magic. In Connolly's world, magic is extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, as evidenced by the exploding children. This isn't Harry-Potter-waving-a-wand magic. This is dark, scary, brutal stuff, and it's tied to the predators, the unearthly creatures that move through the Empty Spaces. Part of Ray and Annalise's mission is to determine if a predator has been summoned to Hammer Bay by an amateur magician in over his head.
The worldbuilding in this novel is wonderful. Connolly manages to avoid getting overly expository, which is hard to do with a world this rich, and lets the reader piece things together for him- or herself. There are a few things I wish he'd have let us in on that presumably will be revealed in later installments--chief among them are the details of Ray and Annalise's shared history--but thanks to the author's smooth prose and admirable imagination, it all flows without leaving the reader confused. And Ray's lone weapon, the ghost knife, has got to be one of the coolest weapons I've read about in a long time!
I can't speak highly enough about Child of Fire
. I loved it, and I can't wait to read Game of Cages
. Luckily, it's on bookstore shelves now, and I don't have to be late to the party this time.