Fire Dance: Lovely prose and worldbuilding, but left me wanting more

Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer fantasy book reviewsFire Dance by Ilana C. Myer fantasy book reviewsFire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

Readers who were enthralled by Ilana C. Myer’s 2015 debut novel, Last Song Before Night, will be pleased to know that they can expect more of what they enjoyed in the sequel/companion novel, Fire Dance (2018). Myer’s prose is rich and imaginative, and her worldbuilding is multi-layered. For my own part, I think that many important details wouldn’t have made sense to me if I hadn’t read Last Song Before Night first, but readers who begin these books with Fire Dance may feel otherwise.

After a terrible storm, the Archmaster of the Academy of Poets is found alone in his room, dead. The remaining Masters name a replacement, choosing a man whose outward attractiveness is only matched by the depths of his ambition. Julien Imara, one of a few girls recently admitted to the Academy, sees him for the danger he represents to the Academy and its students, though she has no idea how to keep anyone safe. Meanwhile Lady Kimbralin Amaristoth, Court Poet and advisor to the king of Eivar, travels in a diplomatic capacity to the neighboring kingdom of Kahishi, whose people are under threat of attack by Fire Dancers. Fire Dancers are mostly creatures of rumor — no one can seem to agree on what they look like or how they are capable of devastating magic, but their lethality and brutality are unquestioned. And Lin has more than a few secrets of her own, secrets which place a very specific timeline on what she might be able to accomplish in the name of keeping the peace.

Julien and Lin are each caught up in vast plots beyond anything that they might imagine, though Julien’s propensity for melting into shadows and being overlooked serve her well as she eavesdrops throughout corridors, and Lin’s aristocratic upbringing (and deeply traumatic home life) give her an edge over anyone who might want to use or betray her. Julien’s growing friendship with new student Sendara Diar, a girl whose beauty and intelligence is effortlessly captivating, opens up new possibilities to Julien even as Sendara’s father schemes and implements terrifying magic. Lin’s travels bring her most trusted bodyguard, Ned, to the attention of Queen Rihab Bet-Sorr, a woman in a gilded cage who simply waits for the right time and circumstances to act with the most effectiveness.

Myer does a great job of portraying seemingly-free characters that are, in actuality, trapped within claustrophobic social boundaries and expectations, and the ways in which they rebel against, are hindered by, or move within those environments. She spends a lot of time describing physical landscapes and surroundings, down to the salt tang in the air and how different quarters of a city smell depending on what purpose they’re used for, and it’s easy to get lost in Fire Dance’s many descriptive paragraphs. At the same time, much as with Last Song Before Night, the plot itself gets lost among the lush descriptions and palace intrigue, and ultimately is resolved as a rather anti-climactic afterthought. In her novels, Myer seems to adhere to the aphorism that the journey is more important than the destination, and if that’s the type of book you’re looking for, then I think you’ll love Myer’s work.

Similarly, Myer’s sympathies lie strictly with her protagonists and their struggles against whatever odds are against them: the fight for justice, the need for freedom and personal agency, and the tortuous path to self-awareness and determination are described with equal importance and consequence. But those characters’ counterparts, whether they’re true villains or misguided antagonists, don’t receive that same depth of motivation and character examination. It’s hard to get a sense for someone’s inner nobility when they’re set up against men who don’t have any soul or life to back up their menace and bad actions.

Fire Dance is a lovely study in world-building and the joy of a poetic phrase, but Myer didn’t bring enough heft to the characters or plot for it to feel like a fully-realized novel to me. I like where she’s going with this world and its characters, though, and I’ll continue following Myer on her journey as she explores the upwelling of magic within Eivar and its surrounding lands.

Published April 10, 2018. Palace intrigue, dark magic, and terrifying secrets drive the beautifully written standalone novel Fire Dance, set in the world of Last Song Before Night. Espionage, diplomacy, conspiracy, passion, and power are the sensuously choreographed steps of the soaring new high fantasy novel by Ilana C. Myer, one woman’s epic mission to stop a magical conflagration. Lin, newly initiated in the art of otherwordly enchantments, is sent to aid her homeland’s allies against vicious attacks from the Fire Dancers: mysterious practitioners of strange and deadly magic. Forced to step into a dangerous waltz of tradition, treachery, and palace secrets, Lin must also race the ticking clock of her own rapidly dwindling life to learn the truth of the Fire Dancers’ war, and how she might prevent death on a scale too terrifying to contemplate. Myer’s novel is a symphony of secret towers, desert winds, burning sands, blood and dust. Her prose soars, and fluid movements of the politically charged plot carry the reader toward a shocking crescendo.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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