Title: True Fire
Author: Gary Meehan
No. of Pages: 400
Origins: Quercus Books
Release Date: 4 November 2014
Bottom Line: Quirky, intense, and difficult to categorize
“Her sister stolen. Her grandfather murdered. Her home burned to the ground. At just 16, her life destroyed. Now, Megan wants revenge. But the men who took Megan’s precious twin are no ordinary soldiers. The brutal witches, armor-clad and branded with the mark of the True, will stop at nothing to take back the power they once had. Desperate for a way to destroy them, Megan uncovers a terrifying lie. A lie that will cast doubt on everything she has ever known, and everyone she has ever trusted. A lie that will put Megan at the heart of the greatest war her world has ever seen.”
Thoughts: To categorize True Fire may prove to be an exercise in futility. The protagonist is young and much of her journey is as much internal as it is external, which means one may consider it young adult. However, the themes are more mature, and the publisher typically does not publish young adult novels. Similarly, one wants to consider it fantasy because the locations are foreign; however, they are also disturbingly familiar, as if readers should know where the story occurs. At the same time, one could consider it historical fiction because one of the characters mentions that it is the fourth century, and there is nothing modern about Megan’s physical world. However, the language is very modern. It feels like a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode with its sarcasm and use of humor to deflect the true seriousness of any relationships and scenes. The sentences are short and snappy, and Megan’s observations of her surroundings and fellow travelers include her snarky feelings. In fact, the entire narrative has a bite to it that eases the tension of the action and adventure. The characters are practically incapable of a thoughtful conversation, resorting instead to banter and jibes most of the time. For such a serious novel, readers will not expect the level of the humor or the lack of solemnity throughout the story.
Megan is equally a conundrum to match the rest of the story. On one hand, she is so young, naïve, and inexperienced. She is impetuous, forming opinions, jumping to conclusions, and acting before she thinks through a single situation. However, she has fantastic instincts which stand her in good stead as she maneuvers through tricky and unexpected situations. She is also very intelligent, quick to connect the dots and see the big picture with only a minimal amount of details. As her journey matures her however, she starts to waffle between indecision and action. Gone are the instances of rushing into a fight; instead, she now hems and haws about potential action even though the time and the place may not be right for such decision-making. In many ways, Megan is very much an unpolished gemstone. As the story progresses, readers will catch glimpses of her true nature through the rough and impatient exterior. By the end of the story, she is quite formidable but still has plenty of room for improvement, which is a good thing since True Fire is the first book in a trilogy.
All of this makes for a most intriguing novel. It draws on so many different genre elements that will appeal to a multitude of readers especially since no one particular genre gets more attention than others. If one does not like the descriptions of the medieval setting, one just has to wait a few pages before it switches to Megan’s coming-of-age story or the thriller aspect of it. There is an attempt to blend the genres together, but it is still easy to pick out the individual genre elements and separate them from the rest. For some readers, this may prove to be too distracting to allow for thorough enjoyment of the story. Others will find the story stronger because of its separate and distinct parts.
True Fire is the first in a trilogy, and it shows. While there is plenty of world building to satisfy most readers, there are many unanswered questions and cloudy imagery to fill future novels. There is also that lingering sense of familiarity, as if Megan’s world is a historical location with names that have been altered by time, which is unsettling and gives readers a surreal feeling while reading. Megan is enjoyable to watch grow and mature, and her interaction with her companions make for some hilarious dialogue. The story never plods; in fact one could say that the action is unrealistically nonstop. However, it fits with the quick banter and snarky asides that fill the novel to create a rapid-paced novel that is surprisingly realistic, contemplative, and quirky. True Fire may not be the greatest novel ever written, but it is entertaining and fun. Sometimes, that is all one needs in a book.