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Fantasy Friday – Child of Fire

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly

Review by Bowden P. (Trey)

 

This is a horrific urban fantasy novel. No, its not bad, or poorly done, but a novel where the magic and fantasy are tinged with horror and darkness. Would I suggest it to folks? Yes. Normally, I wouldn’t have looked at it, but Harry Connolly guested on Charlie Stross‘ blog several months back and sounded interesting, so I took a look.

 

What’s it about? Child of Fire starts with Ray Lilly driving his boss Annalise Powliss to a town in the Pacific Northwest. Ray is an ex-con who had gotten himself involved with with sorcery through a friend he’d accidentally shot and paralyzed. And for his sins, Ray is now a semi-disposable distraction for the real heavy hitter, Annalise. On the way they have an encounter at a rest stop that is plain horrifying (and doubly so if you’re a parent) where they meet the first child of fire. And to be honest, it will get worse.

 

In Hammer Bay, Washington, a former lumber and mill town, Ray and Annalise get a chilly reception from the townsfolk and it goes downhill from there as they think that Annalise is trying to get the major local employer (a toy factory) to outsource work overseas. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the local police are corrupt and they seem to have some knowledge of magic. For even more fun, the local criminal element seems to have it in for Ray too.

 

Now, while all this is bad enough, Connolly pulls no punches. Violence and magic in this series have a cost. In Hammer Bay, the cost to the children is high and to me, what it does to their families is the worst thing. It really punches the dad spot if you will. The fights Ray gets in are nasty, unpleasant and the stakes are permanent injury, death or worse, so he ‘plays’ accordingly. The fights and their aftermaths are not for the squeamish.

 

Ray is our narrator, and for all that he’s ignorant of much of magic and the world at large, he’s still sympathetic. He knows the stakes are high, but still tries to protect the innocent bystanders. He sometimes even succeeds. Like a lot of modern occult investigators, he’s ignorant of technology, but not because of magic, but because he’s been in jail for a decade and missed a log. Plus, that’s just not his world. Connolly does an excellent job writing Ray in such a way as to be interesting, sympathetic and (mostly) a nice guy for all that he’s a criminal and good at violence.

 

Did I like it? Yes. I’ll give it four stars. I didn’t give it five because of the fate of the children. It had nothing to do with Connolly’s craft, but my reaction to it.

 

Likes: Ray – hardened but still basically good; Magic – it has a cost, its mysterious and brings interdimensional predators to Earth, ones that could end all life in a few years; Horror – too many urban fantasy novels are jaded about the horrors their characters deal with, this is not; The picture of small town life – brutally accurate in its stifling nature; Horror without relying on gore.

 

Dislikes: Annalise is so hardened I can’t see how she functions; The fate of most of a generation of children and how its covered up and what it does to the families.

 

Suggested for: Fans of the Dresden files, Stross’ Laundry series (The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum), Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and horror fans in general.

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