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