(2017) James Bennett, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 386pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50665-4
There is an old saying that an author should begin by throwing his characters in at the deep end. Get the readerís attention straight away. This book begins with the hero transforming in to a seven-ton red dragon and clawing his way into the sky above the North Sea. OK - after that yes, I was hooked.
The underlying plot is simple but strongly engaging. Ben Garston is a dragon in human form, the last of his race. Someone is trying to release ancient magic into the world, which could end in untold catastrophe. Garston has to stop them, even though all he really wants to do is get drunk, grow a beard and wallow in self-pity. This makes him a rounded, engaging character and you can argue whether he is really a Ďheroí or just a slob stuck in a miserable situation.
There is plenty of action, and it is very well written. Best of all, the author manages the neat trick of balancing the threat. For all his awesome power, Garston spends most of the book on the back foot (or should that be paw?). And the book has intelligence to match the action. The world of the Lore is fascinating. In the reign of King John, all magic creatures agreed to go into a long sleep, leaving the world to the human race. The only mythical beasts remaining are sole representatives of their species. Now, that agreement had been broken and Garston must take the consequences of what he did in the last book.
James Bennett has created a complex, believable world, which runs below the surface of our own. Itís one of those fantasy novels where exploring that world and its rules forms a key part of the fascination. Raising Fire been compared with Jim Butcher's Dresden novels, which is fair enough. Personally, I was happier to see how it reminded me of Tea with the Black Dragon, which is a gentler but more imaginative book, and a personal favourite.
The end of Raising Fire clearly leads to another book. Thatís fine by me. Iím heading back to read the first in the series, and if Bennett keeps writing to this standard, Iíll be following the series from here on.
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