Two years ago at GenCon, I wandered by this lovely little desk in the Author’s Alley that had a huge pile of books. I only picked up one of them at the time... something I normally do since I usually take a year to get through the meter-high stack of books I pick up at that convention. Then, I reviewed Elfhunter by C.S. Marks. The next year, I picked up Fire-Heart and finally got a chance to polish off the book. I also have the third, because I enjoyed the first one, but that is sitting at the bottom of my reading list just to give the rest of them a chance at a review.
Needless to say, I got to Fire-Heart in this last week and I was, to say the least, very happy with the novel. It comes in at a rather hefty 717 pages, with the story ending at 694 and the rest is appendixes and some rather nice maps. That makes it a pretty significant read and took me just under eight hours to finish it. I struggled with the first third of the novel, but it quickly smoothed out. By the end, I was obsessively reading the last 150 or so pages just because I was really getting into it.
Like Elfhunter, Fire-Heart is written with multiple points of view and a semi-omniscient narrator. I say “semi” because for most of the story, the little “and they would never see each other again” type of comments came true and represented lovely foreshadowing. But, there were a few places where the “never again” ended up being at least a few more times. I don’t like that dishonesty with the narrator, mainly because it was a stark contrast to the first novel and disappointing when it didn’t come trust. This is probably the one thing I disliked the most about the novel.
What I did love is the individual characters in this story and their development. Most of the character grow rather nicely throughout the story. There are a few shallow characters, mostly the villains, but otherwise everyone continued to progress and the story smoothly went from one major point to another.
Fire-Heart did have a great sense of humor in places. These came mostly from the creatures in the story. I love it when authors give a voice to the animals in the story and C. S. Marks didn’t disappoint here. The horses where the ones in this story and having their personalities shown in the story really added a nice touch to the entire thing; and built up an emotional attachment to them. It also shows that the author loves horses in the story, there is something about the detail and reactions that has a ring of truth to it.
The novel does have a rather extended plot, but suffers from being a “movie sequel”. You know, the type of movie where they make the second one solely to lead into the third one? This novel ended the same way with a cliff-hanger that was both obvious and promises to be an epic conclusion to the three books. I hope it doesn’t disappoint, but I’ll find out when it finishes. When I was talking to C. S. Marks, she mentioned that the desert scenes in the middle dragged on, but that is where I really got into the story. It was a tad long, about half the novel, but it was also appropriate for the plot and I thought well done.
One of the notable things about the world in Fire-Heart is that there isn’t that much magic. No spells flying around, no glowing swords. Instead, most of the magic of the world is subtle and rather gritty. I really like that since people just can’t pull some spell out of their pocket and save the day. Instead, success comes from hard work, talent, and perseverance. For me, this is actually probably the best part of the entire world and the writing style.
What I don’t care for, is the elves, but then again, I don’t like the stereotypical elves anyways. They are, as a whole, perfect in the story. The novel does bring that up and it is a source of friction later in the story. This gave me a lot of pleasure, actually, because I don’t like perfect anything when it comes to novels. Even with that, the elves were still a bit too perfect for me.
I do like the elves’ reaction to honey.
And it comes down to the final question: would I read it again? Yes, but probably when I have a long week to read all three of them in one shot. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys really epic fantasy.