The Firedragon

The Firedragon

The Firedragon was written by Mary Fan and first published in 2014. It is a short science-fiction novella which acts as a prequel to the Flynn Nightsider series, the first novel of which is due for release later this year under the title of Flynn Nightsider and the Edge of Evil. All proceeds earned from the sale of The Firedragon are being donated to San Diego Department of Animal Services Spirit Fund and so purchasing a copy for a mere 78p can help provide veterinary care for stray animals.

For a hundred years, the world has been home to monsters. Even though the Lord of the Underworld was defeated by brave warriors, his minions still run riot; destroying cities and eating humans alive. Fourteen year old Aurelia Sun (nicknamed the Firedragon) has trained to hunt them for her entire life but is still not taken seriously by her peers. She is a Norm – an ordinary human – in a world when the magically endowed Enchanters rule the roost.

When the International Challenge – a worldwide monster-fighting contest – is announced, Aurelia realises that this is her chance to get noticed. The winner will be automatically promoted to the Defender Class – the elite group of Norms who are charged with hunting down monsters. On top of this, she sees an opportunity to change the status quo. If a Norm beats the Enchanter contestants and wins the contest, everyone will see that her race is not inferior after all.

However, after Aurelia passes the preliminaries, she learns that not everything is as it seems. The contest is more brutal than she could have ever imagined and she slowly begins to realise that the Triumvirate – the rulers of her world – have a sinister ulterior motive. Yet her discoveries come too late as she finds herself face to face with a terrible foe – a powerful monster which no single hunter has ever defeated…

At first, I really was not sure about this novella. The premise sounded intriguing but the opening chapters were a little too daunting for me. Although this is only a quick read, it is full of exposition for the wider series. This aspect was not very well integrated in the text as the first 28% of the ebook was largely left over to explanation of the political climate and world building. Some of this was even delivered by dialogue between the two main characters, which seemed especially clumsy as they were expositing things to each other that they really should have known, making it all the more obvious that they were playing Everymen in order to bring the reader up to speed.

It felt to me that the ideas were perhaps a little too big to be contained in the novella format. There was so much back-story to be learned that this story could really have done with being expanded into a full novel. There was certainly enough meat to the plot to enable it to have made the transition and it would have allowed for better pacing to avoid the opening info-dump.

The story itself reads as a cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and it really was obvious where these two concepts met. On the one hand ,the author had a typical dystopian regime comprising of a privileged master race who discriminated against the “inferior” lower classes. It even went as far as to have the Enchanters hold a dangerous contest in order to prove their mastery. Yet on the other hand, there was magic. There were schools designed to teach young Enchanters how to master their art, which was entirely performed by waving wands and shouting magic words.

I’ve got to admit that I really actually liked this idea. I enjoyed reading a futuristic dystopian story which hinged on magic use rather than hard science.  My only real problem with the concept was that the magic did not really feel as though it was integrated into the story. While the politics of the world were explained, magic never was. It was never given any kind of limitations or any history to it. Did Enchanters in Aurelia’s world always exist or did they emerge at the same time as the monsters? Did they have any weaknesses? It was implied that some of them were stronger than others but it was never explained why. Was it aptitude? Level of education? Physical strength? The story spent so much time explaining the politics of the world but never really focused on its mechanics and, because of this, the magic system just felt as though it was tacked on.

However as soon as Aurelia had completed the preliminaries, the story immediately began to pick up the pace and became really quiet exciting. It was certainly packed full of action and the monsters were very creative. Although there were some familiar critters in the form of skinwalkers and manticores, Fan also brought to life a bestiary of her own creations – ranging from teleporting mutant wolves to bladed creatures made entirely out of sand. I’m a bit of a sucker for original gribblies and I just loved her creativity. The monsters were truly intimidating and very memorable.

The plot itself was fairly standard for a dystopian story – girl grows dissatisfied with oppressive society and fights to change it – but it was well presented and contained some nice twists. I was interested to see just how far the Triumvirate would go to remain on top. It was clear to me that, despite its flaws, The Firedragon actually succeeded in doing exactly what it set out to do. It set the tone for the rest of the series very well, breaking off at just the right point to make me interested in seeing where the story would go next but avoiding any cliffhangers.

In terms of characterisation, the story felt a little shallow but that was in part due to its novella format. In such a low word count, it was impossible to allow for much character development. While the author did allow for me to get a taste of her characters, there was just not enough time for me to get particularly attached to them. Aurelia was strong and capable but her personality alienated me from her at times. She is completely obsessed with winning the contest and showing up the Enchanters (a fact that she mentions at least once per page) and is arrogant enough to believe that no one else could possibly be stronger than her. While this is characterful based on her upbringing, it just did not enable me to like her. I like for even the strongest characters to have some kind of frailty but for Aurelia, there was not really any Achilles heel.

Beyond Aurelia, there were not many other characters. Her friend Connor was just the epitome of virtue. He was the one Enchanter that disproved the rule – the one who was able to see that Norms were as good as anyone else – and never really showed any emotions beyond kindness and fear. He reminded me of a heroine in a bad paranormal romance story – the kind of character who acts as a doormat and generally goes along with whatever anyone else tells her is best. This may sound a little harsh but it expresses how little of an impression Connor made on me. The one character that I was interested in was Williams, as the novella hints that he has a wider agenda, and I hope that more of this is made in future instalments.

So, all in all, The Firedragon was a bit of a mixed bag. It contains some neat ideas and creative monsters but was ultimately too short and exposition heavy to give me a real feel for Fan’s style. I’m very curious to see what the first full length Flynn Nightsider story will bring as I have a feeling that, with a higher word count, the author’s talents will shine much brighter. However, as this ebook is so cheap and the proceeds are going to a really good cause, I’d really advise that you click on the link below and check this one out for yourself.

The Firedragon can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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