The Fire Within

The Fire Within

The subject of today’s review, along with most of its sequels, was kindly provided for me by my good friend Delyth. Cheers Del – they’ll give me fodder for many future posts!

The Fire Within was written by Chris d’Lacey and first published in 2001. It is the first book of The Last Dragon Chronicles and was followed by Icefire (2003), Fire Star (2005), The Fire Eternal (2007), Dark Fire (2009), Fire World (2011) and The Fire Ascending (2012). It also has a spin-off/prequel series titled The Dragons of Wayward Crescent which ran for a further four novellas between 2008 – 2010.

The novel follows David Rain, a twenty year old college student, as he moves into a rented room in the Pennykettle House. Although he is quick to get along with his landlady Liz, her daughter Lucy and their cat Bonnington, he can’t help but notice that there is something strange about them. Liz makes clay dragons for a living and Lucy treats them as though they are alive, talking to them and carrying them around the house with her.

As a moving-in gift, Liz makes David a dragon of his own – which he names Gadzooks – and it inspires him to write a story about the squirrels that live around the house. The focus of his story is Conker – Lucy’s favourite squirrel – who has been injured by a crow and is consequently growing weaker and weaker. Lucy wants to save the squirrel before their neighbour, Mr Bacon, can kill it and David reluctantly agrees to help her.

However, David gradually begins to notice that the events that he wrote about in his story are coming true. It is almost as though Gadzooks is planting a vision of the future within his head. As other strange things begin to happen within the house, David gradually begins to grow suspicious. It’s clear that Liz and Lucy are hiding something from him and their secret involves the clay dragons…

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that I’ve used the word ‘squirrel’ an awful lot in the description of this novel. This is because The Fire Within is a very deceptive story. If you glance at the cover, you would assume that this was a middle grade fantasy story about dragons but, the truth is, it is more a story about squirrels that just happens to have the occasional dragon in it. And those dragons are made out of clay – before the climax they don’t really do anything other than sit on the mantelpiece (and windowsill and toilet cistern) and make the occasional ‘Hrrr’ sound.

Personally, I found this to be disappointing. I felt as though the book was just marketed wrong. While I don’t have a problem about reading a story about two people trying to rescue a squirrel, it’s not what I expect from a book that markets itself as being a dragon story (if I’d wanted to read a novel about squirrels, I would have picked up a book on them). All of dragon elements of this story just felt a little tacked on and unnecessary. You could have quite easily removed them from the novel and there would have been little to no impact. It would have just become the story of a twenty year old man befriending a little girl as he helps her to rescue an injured squirrel.

The only place that the dragons really do come to foreground is the climax of the story, at which point a lot of lore is thrown at the reader over a very short page count. While I get the impression that a lot of this will be significant for the sequels, it just seems to be very confused. Part of this, I feel, is the author’s writing style which does get a little jumbled in places but it’s mainly just down to the fact that a novel’s worth of exposition is just crammed into twenty pages. After spending so many chapters very slowly trying to rescue Conker and focusing on David’s novel writing, the sudden brisk climax just made the pacing of the story feel horribly unbalanced.

Yet, the back-story of the dragons is intriguing and left me curious to see what would develop from it. While we did learn the story of the human Guinevere and her love for Gawain, the Last Dragon, there are so many holes left in this tale that I’m very interested to see what the author intends to do in order to fill them. Who was the old crone and why was she so interested in having a dragon scale? What happened to Guinevere after the story ended? Why do so many of the characters have Arthurian names? I hope that some of these questions are answered in Icefire (preferably instead of having another story that focuses on tree rats).

When it comes to characterisation, I did rather like Lucy. Her personality came across well in her actions and her speech did make her sound convincingly like an eleven year old. Unfortunately, the other characters did not share in her realism. David is the least convincing twenty year old I have ever seen. He reminded me a lot of the parents in Lionboy, as he behaved more like a child than Lucy did. He was moody, petulant and a little too eager to ignore his studies (I think he attended one lecture in the entire story) in order to try and capture a squirrel.

However, it’s hard to lay all the blame on David for his actions. Liz does nothing in the story other than mess with him. While she gives him Gadzooks almost immediately and drops the occasional cryptic hint about how he should never make his dragon sad or stop loving it, she hides the truth about the dragons from him until the very end. Even as David starts to put two and two together, she still does nothing to confirm the fact that they are alive. She is, however, very quick to lose her temper with David if he ever declares that Gadzooks is nothing other than a lump of clay. Which is it, lady? If you want him to care for his dragon, surely it would make more sense to be open with him. If you don’t, you really can’t be surprised that he doesn’t believe that it’s real.

The dragons within the story are all surprisingly lovable but only Gadzooks appears enough to have any real personality. I thought the way that he appears to David in brief flashes of inspiration was rather interesting, though it was just a shame that this did not happen very often as the squirrels were the true focus of the story. Some of the other dragons (like Gruffen) seemed very cute but the novel’s lack of focus did not allow me to really feel as though I’d gotten to know them.

To conclude, The Fire Within is an incredibly disappointing start to the series. It’s poorly paced and the dragons form more of a sub-plot alongside a lengthy tale about David and Lucy’s many attempts to rescue an injured squirrel. The characterisation is also fairly weak, with many of the adult characters behaving almost as childishly as the children. I have been reliably informed that the series does pick up in Icefire, becoming darker and having more focus on the dragons, and I hope that this is the case as (based on this novel alone) I really have little desire to continue with the series.

The Fire Within can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. IAmDonovan
    Apr 11, 2015 @ 22:50:57

    I’ve read the whole series and it gets crazy deep and interesting. The first book is just the happy groundwork before it all goes crazy. I highly suggest you continue.


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