As always, I read the blurb of Harry Connolly's Child of Fire when the ARc showed up in my mailbox. It sounded interesting, but in the end it was the Jim Butcher quote that made me put it near the top of my "books to read" pile. As you know, urban fantasy isn't always my favorite subgenre, but I've been trying to mix it up a bit more this year. Hence, Connolly's debut appeared to be a relatively safe bet.
Barely out of jail, Ray Lilly finds himself in the role of driver for eccentric Annalise Powliss, a member of the Twenty Palace Society, a mysterious cabal of powerful sorcerers devoted to hunting down rogue magic-users. The problem is, Ray betrayed Annalise in the past, and she's now looking for an excuse to kill him, or make sure that someone or something else conveniently do it in her stead. Ray is acutely aware that he is living on borrowed time. But when their mission goes wrong and Annalise is nearly killed, it's up to Ray to try to complete her assignment. And the more he learns about the truth of what is occurring in Hammer Bay, the more he realizes that he's willing to die to destroy the source of the nefarious magic at work.
Every urban fantasy protagonist seems to have his or her own stomping grounds, and it appears that the state of Washington will be where Ray Lilly's misadventures take place. I feel that Connolly did a good job with his portrayal of small-town concerns and politics in Hammer Bay.
The author introduces a number of cool concepts, but basically sheds no light on any of them. I'm well aware that this is the first volume of a sequence of several installments, yet at times -- even though it's a standalone novel -- Child of Fire feels like the introduction of an introduction. Be that as it may, it doesn't take anything away from the overall reading experience. The narrative reels you in, and I can't wait to discover what happens next.
With a first-person narrative, the characterisation focuses on Ray Lilly. This character may not be as endearing as Butcher's Harry Dresden, but this ex-con is well-drawn and genuine. I'm looking forward to learning more about him. My main complaint would be that we learn close to nothing about the secretive Annalise and the Twenty Palace Society. More information in that regard would have added another dimension to the tale.
Harry Connolly paced his debut almost perfectly. The story grabs hold of you and sucks you in from the start, forcing you to always read yet another chapter. And before you know it, you reach the last page. There's not a dull moment to be found, and I felt that the books could have been a bit longer. More "meat" would have given the novel more depth, without influencing the crisp rhythm.
There is a decidedly high bodycount in Child of Fire, which came as an unexpected surprise. Harry Connolly understands that one cannot tackle with the supernatural without some collateral damage.
All in all, Child of Fire is an exciting and intriguing urban fantasy debut. Del Rey promises new adventures for Ray Lilly and the Twenty Palace Society in the spring of 2010, and I'm really curious to see where the series is headed. Child of Fire should appeal to fans of Jim Butcher and Simon R. Green.
The final verdict: 7.5/10