The new star of British fantasy returns with The Waking Fire, book one of the Draconis Memoria series, a thrilling new epic fantasy of exploration and adventure, spies and assassins, explosive magic and the battle for empire.
For decades the lands of the Ironship Syndicate have been defended by the 'blood blessed' - men and women able to channel the powers contained in the potent blood of wild drakes. Elite spies and assassins, their loyalty has established the Syndicate's position as the greatest power in the known world.
Yet now a crisis looms. The drake bloodlines are weakening, and war with the Corvantine Empire seems inevitable. The Syndicate's only hope of survival lies with the myth of a legendary drake whose powerful blood might just turn the tide of the war - if it even exists.
The task of hunting down this fabled creature falls to Claydon Torcreek, a petty thief and unregistered blood blessed. He's handled many valuable things in his time (most of them illegal) but nothing as priceless as his nation's future.
©2016 Anthony Ryan (P)2016 Hachette Audio UK
"A major new talent." (Buzzfeed)
"Anthony Ryan is a master storyteller." (Mark Lawrence)
Let down by sub par narration. Narrator doesn't change the rythmn of speaking between narrative text or dialog, also doesn't discern which character is speaking with different accents, like some narrators. Makes it hard to keep track of who is saying what.
(Possible spoilers)The story is intriguing and the notion of planting the world in roughly the early 20th century greatly aids in the visualisation of the landscapes, the people, their environment and ultimately their everyday struggles.
I found the notion and theme of the key antagonist as a drake to be somewhat coy and the whole colour scheming somewhat overly simplistic. I think Anthony Ryan relies mostly on the richness of the prose and the hear and now as opposed to too much focus on the back story or the lore as it were and that can work really well but with this book I thought perhaps there wasn't enough of either.
Clay is also a bit of a poor anti-hero. He's not flawed enough. Yes he has many moments of doubt and the like but his character didn't really convey the vastly flawed and deeply self interested persona one would expect him to have after spending the majority of his life living on the streets and barely scrounging a life from a career in common crime.
In saying that, I still think this book will appeal to Anthony's fans and also more open minded and somewhat less detail oriented readers. Stephen Brand is also very good at the narration.
"Everything but the Kitchen Sink!"
Oh my, every so often you come across a story where the author has literally thrown everything bar the kitchen sink at it. This is one of those, a steampunk world “blessed” with super heroes powered by dragon blood and of course the dragons themselves. Lots and lots of dragons! It’s a heady mix set in a world of rich detail and history which also manages to squeeze in contemporary “evils” such as corporate greed and in a sense globalisation.
The story is told through the three leading characters:-
A super spy; hints of a fantasy born of Ian Fleming’s works with a highly trained agent / assassin complete with gadgets and a “Q” figure to boot.
A rogue born of a rough background, someone used to living in the shadows who in fine fantasy tradition is lifted up to go on an almost Indian Jones like quest.
A fine, upstanding sea officer who is our conduit to the book’s naval parts and shipborne adventures.
Through these three varied leads Ryan sweeps us through the bright and varied world he has created with espionage, sea battles, land battles, pirates and of course lots and lots of dragon combat. I think it’s fair to use the work “epic” here.
Is it perfect? Well no, I think that would be pushing it. Stephen Brand would not be my first choice of narrator. He does a good enough job but for a book with this variety of pace, character and scene I think he is a bit one-dimensional compared to some of the very best. I do admire anyone that can narrate through so much material to be fair but someone with a wider variety of character voices and greater ability to change pace would have been welcome. Also, as a story there are some fairly contrived rescues for characters. This is nothing unusual but it did seem to stand out a couple of times for me.
So, this isn’t say as gritty and doesn’t have the “real” feel of say a Brandon Sanderson but it is great fun, varied and full of action. Especially in the second half. There are a good set of characters to get to know and a detailed world to discover. I was very happy with it and I think it is set up to continue in the same vein. The question to ask at this point is can the author keep it up in the follow-up books having thrown quite so much into this one?
I hope so and I will be finding out!
"The Waking Fire lights up Modern Fantasy"
Opening a book with a letter can be a gentle way to introduce your reader to the world they will be inhabiting through the course of the narrative. This is true for Anthony Ryan’s latest novel in one way, it's a letter but as far as easing you in that's not quite true. For in a very short time we are welcomed into a world of potions and Drakes. These though are the grander points that are hard not to miss, it is the smaller ideas that seep through like syndicates, engines and firearms that show this is no run of the mill Dragon tale.
Ryan manages to marry a Steampunk setting in with a Western, an Espionage tale and a Naval story and this is only to begin with. This is a tricky idea to say the least, but in using three point of view characters he manages to pull it off. The central trio consist of Lizanne, Claydon and Hilemore. They are a mixed group with Clay (short for Claydon) being a thief from the dark streets, Hilemore a naval officer and Lizanne a spy. Each has their own arc though Clay and Lizanne are interwoven for large chunks of the narrative. All three feel fleshed out and you start being able to anticipate their moves later in the book. This in some way sacrifices the plot twists, however by establishing the players and developing their characters Ryan manages to draw you into their stories at a more emotional level. This is important for a larger series as if we end up following this trio in the later books then the groundwork has been laid. Lizanne was my favourite character and I think she has the biggest development arc of the three.
The real treat however is the world in which the story takes place. It feels like a genuine mix of the centuries with everything from untamed wildlands to advanced engines with an intriguing political power structure overriding everything. Although not a book about politics you can not escape the ideas that run through the book from the dangers and advantages of a free market economy to that of a autocracy. This balance allows for the a central plot theme that plays out later in the book but it also underpins the the relationships we see evolve throughout the book. The issues of the class system are unmistakable within the passages of the book. Again though it is subtle so do not worry nothing is shoved down your throat and due to the characters usually within the scene you do get a semblance of balance on views that are expressed even if it is just a derisive look or snort.
The Fantasy aspect of this book however can not be overlooked. The Dragons (or Drakes) that the book describes come in four colours, These are Green, Blue, Red and Black on the wane they are harvested for the blood which power the Blood Blessed a group of humans who can harness the power of the blood to achieve superhuman feats. In the case of Green this is healing among other things, for the Red it's all about fire, Black is sinister in the extreme and Blue is concerned with the mind. The introduction of this facet of the story allows for some wonderfully choreographed fights but personal and on a larger scale. Of course the action does not just rest on the Blood Blessed shoulders as we have Rifle, Canon and Growler to more than fulfill our action quota.
With all these themes flowing around it would be easy to think of this book as a slow burn however thanks to the three way narrative it’s not. The chapter structure follows one of the central players at a time and Ryan does a great job of pacing slower chapters with one character by putting them next to a more high tempo chapter with another. Thanks to this the 22 and a half hours of listening time felt like it was quite a bit shorter.
The narration by Steven Brand is certainly more narration than performance. He adds inflections to characters but does not try to add different accents. Due to his structure throughout the book I never found it jarring. It is worse when a narrator dips in and out of styles and this is certainly not the case here. As an example you can listen to an extract from the book by clicking on the image to the right.
This is my first dip into Anthony Ryan's writings and I am impressed with what I have heard. This book could easily be a stand alone novel (except for needing a ending), instead it is a world building introduction to a larger series and hopefully one that delivers to the high standard of this opening gambit.
"Dragons, magic and treachery!!"
Good story only slightly let down by the monotone character voicing which made following conversations slightly challenging at times. Apart from that a good story well narrated.
"Slow start but worth sticking with it"
I have listen to the authors other books (raven shadows series) and loved them. This one isn't as good. It took a while to get into the characters and care about them. I'm still not actually that fussed. That said i think it is a good book and look forward to the next.
I think I enjoyed the story overall. The 'oldie' language got a bit tiresome, but the characters and story were good. Definitely a good start to a saga. What really let the audiobook down was the narrator. I'm sorry, because he has a great 'speaking' voice but his accents and male/female differences are non-existent. Literally. You had to wait for the end of a sentence, for the 'she said' before you knew what sex was talking. And knowing a character from the voice was impossible. Steven Pacey would have smashed this book. All narrators should aspire to Pacey :)
"Great Story, terrible narration."
Loved the story but couldn't finish audio book due to really monotonic characterless narrator. Shame!
"Hooked from the start and just got better and better"
Interesting story and narrated very well loved the characters who were all fleshed out enough to enable the reader to form individual pictures. The same can be said of the world in which the story takes place.
I was gripped from the beginning, well done Mr Ryan, another fantastic series. I can't wait for the rest. Also what a fantastic narrator. Well done.
"Great beginning to the series"
Took me a while to get into the characters and get used to swapping between stories but by the end I was gripped. Cannot wait to read the next one.
"Performance a little beige but a great story."
I really enjoyed the story. A real step up from his previous work. The narrator is a bit monotone, I prefer a narrator who breathes life into the words rather than simply recites them. That said, I'm still really looking forward to the next installment.
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