The Waking Fire is the first of a trilogy about dragons, by Anthony Ryan. It’s been on my list for a few years and I finally picked it up on Amazon. I should have done that earlier.
The Ironship Syndicate has evolved beyond the need for empires and kingdoms. This is the age of industry, where the blood of dragons powers the future.
You heard that right. In the Waking Fire, about one in a thousand people is a blood-blessed: a person able to consume dragon blood to grant them magical powers. The blood of green dragons heals, red grants control of fire, blue allow instant communication across the world, and black allows telekinesis.
The dragons can only live on the continent of Arradsia, though, and they suffer in captivity. With the need for blood ever increasing, wild dragons are becoming scarce. And captive ones grow up stunted. Dragon blood is becoming scarce, and since it’s the base of power of the Syndicate, something must be done. And the Corvantine Empire looms over the world as well, a broken power trounced repeatedly by the Syndicate, but ever seeking to return to its former status.
One of the leaders of the Syndicate has a plan though. Find the legendary white dragon. Its blood could turn the tides. So, Lizanne Lethridge and Claydon Torcreek, two blood-blessed from vastly different backgrounds, go on a mission to find the white dragon.
Things do not go as planned.
Lizanne is a spy and an assassin. Imagine a female James Bond with magic and you have a good idea of who she is. Some of the coolest sequences in the book are of Lizanne downing a few vials of dragon blood and battling her way through a host of enemies. Her part of the mission is to ruthlessly pursue a lead behind enemy lines, but it turns out Lizanne is not as ruthless as she appears.
Claydon (‘Clay’ for short) is the opposite of Lizanne. She has standing and has been trained her whole life. Clay is a low-life from a broken home. He heads a criminal gang trying to escape the city. Then his uncle plucks him off the streets. His uncle hates him, but he needs Clay. Because Clay is the only known unregistered blood-blessed. Every teenager is tested and if they can consume product, they are registered and conscripted. All except Clay. Clay is not happy with his mission, but his uncle forces him into a corner and so he goes along.
Corrick Hilemore is an officer on an Ironship Syndicate ship. The ship is powered by a blood-blessed, and off on a mission to eradicate pirates. Things start well, but things soon start to spin out of control, taxing Lieutenant Hilemore’s resolve and skill.
I loved Anthony Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow trilogy. However, when I first saw The Waking Fire, I though, ‘Urgh Dragons’. You see, Fantasy has done dragons to death. From Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones to How to train your dragon. I had had my fill of dragons, I thought.
I was wrong. Anthony Ryan created something different. It sets up dragons at the base of a fantasy industrial revolution. That is novel. He then manages to combine that with a mix of James Bond thriller (Lizanne’s plot), an Indiana Jones adventure (Clay’s plot), and a Master and Commander-style epic (Lieutenant Hilemore’s plot).
Somehow, all three plots work, and they work in tandem. The only gripe I have with it, is that Hilemore’s plot takes a backseat later on, and only truly gets going in the second book of the trilogy.
That said, this book was a real page-turner for me.
If the idea of a Victorian-style fantasy novel about dragons appeals to you, this is a must-read. Even if you’ve grown tired of dragons, this has something to offer.
Of course, if you only want your fantasy Tolkien style, and guns and mechanized ships are too modern for you, you should give this a pass. And if you don’t like fantasy at all, steer right clear of it.