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REVIEW: The Fire Within by Joely Sue Burkhart

Dear Ms Burkhart,

I was intrigued by the first story in your Keldari world, “Survive My Fire.” Intrigued enough that when you sent us a copy of the second installment, I immediately made plans to read it. It took me a while to get to it but I found it as interesting as the first. I’d like to thank you for creating the Guide to Keldari culture as I think this will assist readers new to this world you’ve created.

There’s nothing gentle, sweet or kind about this story or the people in it. The world you’ve created is harsh and filled with hard people who are willing to do what is required to survive. Everyone is an enemy unless something worse threatens them. Life is based on a ruthlessness that allows no place for the weak. When this is circumvented, chaos results as the hero Zahak discovers. I thought the religion of the Keldaris somewhat resembled that of the Vikings. Life is short and hard, filled with violence and in the end, most of us are going to die in the final showdown with the gods (or in the case of the Keldaris, with their dragon god). They feel their suffering and hard life is due to an ancient sin committed by their people, one which must be paid for with their blood. Question: have you stated what this ancient sin is and I’ve forgotten or missed it? Or will it be revealed later?

When Zahak sees a chance to fulfill an ancient prophecy and thereby offer his people a better chance to survive, he jumps at it. Eleni is of the bloodline needed to raise a Keldari warrior to the position of head of all the tribes. Zahak will see to her delivery to his brother, whom he has positioned and fought for all his life to advance to this leadership role, at all costs. The journey shows just how harsh is Keldari life and is one most people wouldn’t survive. The fact that Eleni does make it shows how tough she is and supports the horrifying background you’ve given her. As bad as the long trip across burning sands with little water is, it’s a cake walk compared to the life she’s lived with her vicious “cruel not only because I can but because I enjoy it” brother.

You gradually show us more about the history and lifestyle of the Keldaris without resorting to an info dump. I would hope that newbies take the time to read the guidelines first before starting any of these books. I wondered if the acceptance of their doomed existence is behind the fact that they don’t try and find or take over a new homeland – one with some water in it? Yet as grim as this world is, I didn’t get quite the hopeless feeling I did with the first book. Yes, there’s going to be more suffering and the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet but there might be hope for these people.

The dragon shapeshifting isn’t as prominent to this story. We do finally see it yet in the Keldari world, shapeshifting is more a curse than in many shifter worlds. It’s something to be fought, feared and avoided if possible. Just because a dragon has mated, it doesn’t mean that s/he won’t try and kill a mate as easily as anyone else who gets in its way. Mating is dangerous in and of itself with biting and marking going on. The bloodsucking leads a sort of vampirish feel to this world as well. There is also a hint, though just a bare hint, of ‘fated mate.’ Though since anyone of a certain bloodline would work, it’s less so than other stories I’ve read. I’ll be honest and say that the relationship between Eleni and her brother was beginning to make me squirm. I didn’t detect any incest but their mental closeness and certain things about their shared political past brought to mind the relationship of Commodus and Lucilla a la “Gladiator.”

As with “Survive My Fire,” I felt the use of adjectives was well done. This is a hot land and flaming, blazing, burning, cracked and parched let us know that. The land and the people are all well described. I did find it a little hard to follow the minutiae during the big fight sequence at the end but overall I could understand what you intended. Since I don’t read too many paranormal books, it might be that this world isn’t as unique as I find it to be but I feel that your approach it separates it from the usual romance fare. B


available as an ebook

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Liviania
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 15:52:42

    Hmm, I do love me a paranormal with a well-built world. I might try to find the first at the library.

  2. Joely
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 17:13:32

    Jayne, thanks so much for the review! The exact sin that brought the curse to Keldar has not been stated explicitly in the two novellas yet. It’s ancient backstory, but definitely on the list of things to write.

    I’m also glad the dictionary page has proven helpful. I try to show/explain the words and culture without explicitly infodumping in the story, and only use special words when there is no other “normal” word that works in that culture, but it is a fine line to walk.

    You also make an interesting point about the Keldari leaving the desert to invade a more plentiful land. It just so happens the next Keldari novel(la) (not sure of length yet) will not actually take place in Keldar. Perhaps I can get into the devalki too.

    Darius makes me squirm too. ;-) Given enough time, he’d be as bad as Commodus. That’s why Eleni knew she had to escape while she could.

    Thanks again!

  3. Deena
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 17:55:18

    I might try to find the first at the library.

    Livania, it’s not available at the library yet. They’re only out in ebook, but the ebook combination of this one, the first, and an upcoming one will be available in ebook from the library soon (if your library supports ebook checkout) and they’re all scheduled to be printed together next year.

  4. Bethanie
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 21:24:38

    THRILLED to hear the Keldari stories will be printed!! I’ll be purchasing a copy when they are. Yahoo!

  5. Joely Sue Burkhart » Blog Archive » The Fire Within Review
    Apr 17, 2008 @ 22:12:57

    […] at Dear Author gave The Fire Within a great review here.  About Keldar, she says: There's nothing gentle, sweet or kind about this story or the people […]

  6. Jessica Russell
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 07:10:51

    I can’t WAIT to get this series in print. I very recently fell in love with her Keldari via a free read she’d done in Paperback Writer’s ebook challenge. It was the Horse Master, I believe.

  7. Joely
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 07:26:54

    Deena, my brilliant editor, thanks for clarifying the timeline.

    Bethanie, you’re a doll!

    Jessica, thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the free read. It’s still on my website if anyone else is interested (direct link to pdf): The Horse Master. Other free reads are also listed on the Free Reads page.

  8. Patricia Briggs
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 23:59:29

    I am proof that sometimes free stories do exactly what you want them to . I tottled over to Joely’s free story and thought . . .hey, this is fun. So I continued over to to the Drollerie press site and bought the rest of her books. Very fun stuff.

  9. The Fire Within | Interact
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 07:14:23

    […] Read the rest of the review here. An excerpt of The Fire Within is available here. […]

  10. Joely
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 11:22:04

    Patricia, I can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t make me sound like a Mercy fan girl–which is true!–so I’ll just say THANK YOU and I hope you enjoy them! A huge thank you to Lynn Viehl, aka Paperback Writer, for holding the free e-book challenge. Ever since, I’ve tried to give away a few short stories each year.

  11. Joely Sue Burkhart » Blog Archive » Plotting: Come Full Circle
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 19:53:46

    […] also allows me to explore the original devalki, as requested by Jayne at Dear Author when she reviewed both novellas, tying all three novellas up with a lovely tidy bow.  It’s only fitting […]

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