This is a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. It's a blazing debut, well worth your time. The Smoke Eaters fight dragons and dragon-fires with high-tech gadgets in a post-collapse 22nd century America. It's a bleak future vision. Firefighter captain Cole Brannigan is pressed to take up service with the Smoke Eaters after 30 years in the fire service because they discover that he can breathe dragon smoke without choking on it. He'd been planning his retirement with his wife, but now his future looks very different. Dragons emerge from below, destroying neighbourhoods and eating the population. They've destroyed the infrastructure, made travel by road too dangerous to contemplate, and turned the USA into a collection of autonomous, isolated city states. And then there are the wraiths, ghosts of the consumed who manifest electrically and attract dragons like I attract mosquitos in summer. Brannigan goes from being a seasoned firefighter to a Smoke Eater rookie as he has to learn the job all over again, but he brings with him thirty years of firefighting experience, a stubborn attitude and a deep hatred for the mayor who seems to be intent on sacking public servants and replacing them with droids and drones. Brannigan is a great character. Strong on attitude but weak of bladder. How nice to have a sixty year old hero who gets the job done out of sheer cussedness and commonsense. The author is a firefighter and it shows in the detail and the knowledge – and very probably the attitude. Loved it. NOTE: I had this as a pre-release review copy from Netgalley.
This is a re-read of one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books. The first time I read it, I'd never been to a science fiction convention. Now I have and there are plenty of familiar things in here.
Rupert Venables is a magid charged with selecting a new magid-in-training after his mentor, Stan dies. Stan (as a ghost) is allowed to help in the selection process. What's a magid? Good question and even having read the book I'm not sure I can tell you succinctly. A magid is a magic user who protects and corrects matters any number of alternate worlds, guided by (sometimes very obliquely) entities 'above' who are supposed to know what's going on in the multiverse and guide it along. Confused? Not surprised, but just go along with it. Rupert is the youngest earth-based magid with only a couple of years' experience. Both his older brothers are magids too, which gives him someone to call on when things get sticky. And they're about to get very sticky very fast. The magids mostly keep magic away from ordinary people and there are 'deep secrets' which are for magids only. Some worlds have more magic than others. Earth is on the negative side. Rupert is designated to look after the Koryfonic Empire which is on the cusp of the magic positive/negative divide, but politically unstable. With the death of the emperor it seems to be open season on his heirs and Rupert is caught up in events there, while at the same time trying to hunt down the potential candidates for the new magid. In the end he hits on a plan to get them to come to him... at a science fiction convention. The only one he tries to keep away is Maree Mallory whom he has already crossed off his list because she's weird and they seem to hate each other on sight. But since the fate lines have all become twisted together, Maree turns up anyway together with her aunt, uncle (a writer) and her cousin, Nick. It all gets very complicated because it turns put that there are other magic users playing with the 'nodes' so the rooms in the hotel are never where they were left. it's a plot that ties events on earth with the problems in the Koryfonic Empire.
There's a lot to like in this book. Rupert is an appealing character, Maree and Nick grow on you, and the twisty plot keeps you on your toes. I didn't notice the first time I read it (I wasn't a writer then) but there's a section where Nick and Maree are on their own doing something extremely perilous while Rupert waits for them to return. They return and the plot continues, but for some reason Ms Jones chooses to tell that segment of the story at the end from Nick's point of view, which seems a bit out of place, though it has a nice little reveal at the end.
This starts off well. The two main characters, mercenaries, are currently signed on as caravan guards to get to where they are going (to deliver something important). What immediately sets them apart is that one is a Dead Man, the one-time bodyguard of a now-dead caliph who hides his face behind a veil (only revealing his face to someone he's about to kill). The other is a Gage, a metal man created by a now-dead wizard. The Gage used to be a human, but physically there's nothing organic left. The Gage and the Dead Man have formed a good working relationship that has become a friendship. Mrithuri, the young rajni of the Lotus Kingdom is beset my enemies. The message the two mercenaries carry is supposed to help her. In the meantime, in the kingdom next door, Mrithuri's cousin Sayeh is regent for her young son, and in an even more dangerous predicament as volcanic activity, and an army led by the Boneless and both vying to destroy her kingdom.
This book doesn't quite end on a cliffhanger but it's obvious that the biggest battle is yet to come, but the characters are all in place now and their relationships established. The world-building is rich and detailed with a strong flavour of southern Asia and a completely weird 'day-is-night' vibe going on with the 'cauled sun'
An interesting and unusual concept. When coming to the end of their life individuals can sign up for the army – no not an earth-bound army of geriatrics, but an army, newly rejuvenated, defending colonies in the galaxy from the predations of many races whose prime objective is to massacre (and possibly eat) colonists who are occupying planets they want. (It seems that humanity hasn’t actually discovered any peaceful alien species.) The Colonial Defence Force gets young, fit soldiers with mature minds. When it comes to looking age-related illness and death in the face these good citizens of America (I don’t think any other country’s individuals are mentioned) overturn their pacifist beliefs and take a leap of faith. And leap of faith it is, because though they know there’s a rejuvenation process, they don’t know what it is or how it works, and they don’t know what horrors they’re going to be facing out there. It turns out things are way more extreme than they ever imagined, both in terms of their bodies, and in terms of the likely death rate amongst recruits.
John Perry and his wife sign up at the age of sixty-five for service ten years hence. His wife, unfortunately, drops dead with no warning, so John, a few years later, goes off alone, knowing that he’ll never see earth again. If he survives he’ll be given a homestead on a colony planet. On board the transport he meets up with a bunch of similar individuals and they bond, calling themselves the Old Farts. But they don’t stay old for long. The reality of their rejuvenation is stranger than they could have imagined. They are mostly split up, but they keep in touch and a series of skirmishes against enemy aliens takes the lives of some of them. Things get even stranger when John is injured and sees his wife in the rescue party…