Review: Hidden Fires

Hidden Fires by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is a science-fiction tale set in a future where mankind has populated many other solar systems, and inter-system travel taking years or decades is positively common-place thanks to scientific advances.  Hidden Fires is the third book in a series, following Fire Sanctuary and Fires of Nuala, and was re-released as an ebookk in December 2010.Hidden Fires cover

Garth Kristinsson’s parents died long ago, somehow caught in the backlash of a scam gone awry, and he has spent all his time since attempting to to track down the mysterious Silver, his father’s former partner and the one person still living who might be able to give him the answers he seeks.  After over a century of searching and travelling in the technological wonder of Cold Sleep (a form of hibernation that seems to prevent the body from aging during extended space journeys), Garth’s quest takes him to the strange planet of Nuala, a harsh world that is poisonous to those not native or acclimatised to its deadly radiation.

Once he arrives Garth soon locates Silver, who has spent the past decade living on Nuala as Darame Daviddottir, wife of the co-ruler of the Nualan tribe of Atare, far away from the outside galaxy and her former life.  While Darame seems pleased to meet the son of her childhood friend Lisbet, she is ignorant of Lisbet and Kristin’s deaths, and her warm welcome throws Garth off his guard.  Before he can decide whether to pursue his initial plans to make Silver pay, Garth finds himself drawn into the machinons of the young nobles of Atare’s rival clan Dielaan.  A plan intended to make a (relatively) harmless political statement goes badly awry, and Garth soon finds himself fleeing the civilised city of Amura to escape his former co-conspirators.

I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely sure what to think about this book when I started it.  I wasn’t terribly gripped by the opening, and put off reading past the first chapter for a while; the opening line, while obviously intended to grip the reader’s interest, seemed rather ponderous and melodramatic, which combined with the immediate stream-of-consciousness monologue to rather put me off.

I was wrong.

While the first few chapters felt a little slow to me, once the action actually began and we met the mysterious Silver, it quickly changed into an interesting and complex tale of adventure and political intrigue.

I wasn’t fond of Garth to begin with, but he did grow on me as the story progressed, and I liked Lucy and Darame from the start.  Even the ‘villain’ of the piece was more than just a flat cardboard figure, though he fit the ‘selfish megalomaniac’ stereotype a little too neatly for my taste.  Both major and secondary characters seemed to be well-written, and the author resisted the urge to have the token child character talk in ‘baby-talk’, which was very much appreciated.

This is the third book in the world of Nuala, and it definitely shows.  The world’s culture and history is rich in detail and fairly complicated, and a lot of the concepts are explained only briefly; while the world itself is obviously well fleshed-out behind the scenes, it seemed to presume that the reader was already familiar with Nuala through the previous two books and the events they contained, and I felt lost at times without that frame of reference.

Having managed to get past my initial negative impression of Hidden Fires I found that I very much enjoyed this story, and will be adding one of its prequels, Fires of Nuala, to my wish list.  Recommended.

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