I’m running short on time because of the holy days (you can shorten that to holidays if you need to) and my new work schedule, but I did not want a week to go by without at least one or two reviews.
I have worked for a while now with a long commute.
On the long drives I checked out Dies the Fire, the first novel of The Change series by S. M. Stirling. It is the story of what happens with a mysterious power (I love the fact that the current theory in the story calls the Mutant Space Bats) turns off electricity, firearms, and even steam power in a single instant. Clumps of humanity are thrown into desperate fights to survive, but in the fertile lands of Oregon a few groups have a fighting chance.
Stirling’s writing craft is admirable. He gets more story in a single paperback than younger authors can cram into three, even trilogies that I really enjoyed like Divergent. There are no wasted words here, but Stirling is good enough to still give characters room to think, breathe, reminisce, and plan. That’s a difficult balance done very well. Stirling’s characters are likable, bold, and dynamic as they grown and change into the Changed world. The conflicts are believable and the plot is positively stuffed with event.
This is the start of a long series, and I own paperback copies of the first three books, which make a solid story unto themselves. I have one problem with the first trilogy that I can live with while it remains a background issue. With the fourth book it becomes terminal for me, so I only keep the three that I like, but the first three novels of the Change series are really well done.
Stirling picks a religion in this series and commits to it. That is faux-Irish flavored Wicca/Witchcraft. All right, he’s entitled to it. The problem becomes his treatment of it. This is the One True Faith. It is the only thing that works. The only really balanced and capable societies are the ones that tolerate it or embrace it. There is a crap-ton of deus ex machina in this story. Everything turns out really well for the heroes. They just happen to all run into friends who are masters of ancient fighting styles and good enough teachers to turn everyone into Robin Hood or King Arthur. I nearly stopped listening to the audio book when I hit a scene where Juniper Mackenzie stands up in a battle, calls on a death goddess, turns into an invincible warrior, everyone who looks on her is filled with awe and terror, she completely defeats all of her enemies with only a tiny handful of losses, AND the wicked, bigoted, hate-filled Baptist minister on her side drops mysteriously dead in the middle of battle with not a scratch on him. So naturally everyone following the Baptist falls apart, moves in with Junie’s new-Irish clan, and converts to Wicca by the end of the book once they see how much more enlightened it is. Anyone from a different religion is depicted as deluded, fooled, or insincere.
Folks, that sort of evangelical un-subtle clubbing is the main reason why I no longer buy much Christian fiction. I can’t stomach this sort of thing from people who follow a religion I believe in much less people antithetical to my faith. It’s one of the big mechanisms that make me write fiction myself, so that there is some Christian fiction with admirable non-believers, everyone does not convert in the end, and saying Jesus three times and clicking your ruby slippers doesn’t make all your problems go away like magic.
That being said… There are tons of good flavor points in this story, some honest romance, a lot of great Tolkien homages, good action, excellent fight choreography, and interesting technology. The audio book is narrated by a guy who butchers Celtic pronunciations and does even worse things to medieval words he isn’t familiar with, but the story is so well done and amazing that I re-read the first three books every year or two. He pulls Obama-isms, like having marine veterans call for corpsmen (pronounced here: Cores-Men, I shit you not). It would be better for audio readers of military fiction and fantasy to have a passing familiarity with the simplest military terms. Almost bad is the invocation of Curnnunos (pronounced Sir None Oss, honestly… ouch).
Wiccan or not, and I am firmly not, there is some amazing writing craft here. The story is worthwhile and an aspiring author can get great examples of what to do and what not to do from the same book.