REVIEW: Red Fire by Deirdre Knight
Dear Ms. Knight:
I admit to rolling my eyes a bit over the beginning book because I kept thinking of the movie 300. The prologue is the set up for the entire series. 7 books involving 7 Spartan warriors who stood at the gap at Thermopylae to stave off the demonic forces overtaking Sparta. There 300 Spartan soldiers stood with their king, Leonidas, and fought until one by one, all had died. When 6 of the best soldiers and King Leonidas arrived in the afterlife and stood in front of the River Styx, they were confronted with the god of war, Ares, and offered a bargain. Immortality and the chance to be warriors fighting and defeating the demon hoard that killed them or move on to Elysium and the afterlife. The seven took up the banner of being mankind’s protectorate.
This first story, Red Fire, is about Ajax Petrakos, a captain in King Leonidas’ army. Ajax is a man who is at the end of his tether. He is weary of battle and sore at heart. He regrets his immortality at times and has separated himself from the seven. The problem is that Jax is needed because he is the only one who can speak to the Oracle, a goddess sent to provide prophecies and direction to King Leonidas’ army.
The Oracle has called for Jax. There is a test for him . . . or else. Frankly Jax isn’t terribly scared of the “or else” for as he tells the Oracle “We’re immortals? Hullo? No killing in immortality.” The worst thing has already happened to Jax, he believes, and maybe dying in battle isn’t such a bad thing. He agrees to go off to Savannah and fight one of his mortal enemies. There he finds the one thing he has been searching for nearly since the beginning of his immortal existence.
Jax has had a special prophecy given to him by the Oracle thousands of years ago. She had told him that there was a woman named Shayanna Angel and she would save him. There was one problem I had. Jax had a wife as a Spartan and I wish that there had been some unpacking about why he didn’t long for his wife like he longed for this woman he had never met. It was a question that bothered me throughout the story and one I felt remained unanswered.
Shayanna Angel comes from a family of demon hunters called the “Shades”, a name even she finds a bit ridiculous.
“The Shades,” she repeated disdainfully. “How lame. Sounds like a wannabe college secret society or something. And you know what?” She leaned forward, gripping the back of Jamie’s seat. “You care more about your stupid team than you do about me.”
The Shades, though, is a family business wherein only the males can be hunters. Shay, though, has been seeing demons and feels like she should be demon hunting with her brothers. For some reason, though, the Shades is an anti-female hunter crew and that Shay should be protected at all costs to the extent that she know nothing about the lore (even though Shay’s deceased mother clearly not only knew about the lore but dictated to her sons what Shay should know or not know).
Another issue I had was the unevenness in the language. Jax would waver from formalistic language (and I guess Old Greek – which was told to us rather than show) such as
“The man who holds you, Ajax Petrakos, will never hurt you, wee lass.”
“or we both get rolling and you let me do your job.”
I never understood the constant use of “lass” or “wee lass” as endearments. Jax was originally Greek and for him to adopt the faux Highland brogue seemed odd. Another worldbuilding issue was that it was said that words were the most effective weapon, power words. Yet, most of the story consisted of physical battles. I think that the use of hymns, scriptures, and so forth could have been implemented in a much more powerful manner, fulfilling the stated construct of the mythos.
I did enjoy the irreverence characters showed toward the myth.
Ares smiled faintly. “You love her already, don’t you?”
The loud echo of hoofbeats signaled Sable’s arrival at Ares’ other side. “Oh, is he blabbering about his”-‘ Sable made quotation marks in the air, scowling as he raised his voice an octave-‘”prophesied love?”
“She is mine, in the palm of my hand,” Jax warned in a chilling voice. “Watch yourself, demons. You have no right to touch so much as a single hair on this one’s head.”
“Touch!” The horde cackled in unison, laughing as if he’d just told the most uproarious joke. “Stroke the lovely, lovely.”
“Ah, bollocks.” Jax shook his head; why were most demons always so inane? The least they could do was grow a decent sense of humor or manufacture some cleverness. “Stop watching Lord of the Rings, why don’t you?”
The book showed how capricious the gods where and how even the Immortal Spartans were only playthings at times. This added a good level of suspense and uncertainty to the story.
There was excellent sexual tension and chemistry between Shayanna Angel and Jax. Certainly, I was convinced that feathers and wings were very sexy. Leda and the Swan imagery is woven throughout which I thought was a nice touch (although wasn’t Leda considered to be raped by Zeus?) . I would note that those who are uncomfortable with anything but straight human on human intercourse might find this story to be disconcerting. I liked the humor and irreverence. The book managed to be sexy and suspenseful without taking itself too seriously and, to some extent, it was fresh. In sum, I know I had some criticisms of the book, but I am interested in reading the next one in the series. B-