Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen
I was given a copy of Black Fire Concerto for review by its author Mike Allen. You can find a little bit more information about Mike and his work here and also check out this interview with the Bookstore Blogger Connection. With other links here and here – Mike Allen certainly seems to be generating a lot of interest!
Black Fire Concerto is set in a new and harsh world. Plagued by terrible storms the world has changed beyond recognition. Ghouls exist, dark magic and completely new species have evolved from the fall out. At the start of the story Erzelle is captive aboard the Red Empress. A sinister place, the Red Empress is the place where the elite come to dine. But, before you start dashing to book yourself a table be aware that some of the guests of honour who come to dinner will play a much bigger part in the dining experience than they ever imagined (think Hannibal Lecter). Erzelle’s parents were lured aboard under similar circumstances, believing that they would be part of the entertainment on board but once there they were brutally murdered leaving behind Erzelle who now lives aboard, playing her harp, witness to atrocities and murders and basically living on borrowed time until she reaches an age where her worth will change from harpist to something else completely. Living in constant fear of death Erzelle’s fate is about to change when the next guest to board the Empress and partake of the strange fayre comes aboard. Olyssa is that guest. She’s on a journey, seeking to find her sister and rescue her. In the process she’s going to rescue Erzelle and the two will strike up a friendship at first based on gratitude and survival but later turning to one of respect and akin to teacher/pupil as they cross this strange land in search of Lilla. Of course nothing is ever that straightforward and the two are going to run from one crisis to the next culminating in a dark showdown.
Now, this is only a fairly short novel so I don’t want to give away too much in terms of the plot and what’s going on. It’s basically a rescue mission with a difference. There’s dark magic involved and it would be remiss of me at this point not to mention that this is a fairly brutal world. I would describe this as fantasy/horror I suppose if pushed. There is certainly no lack of dead bodies and ick.
In terms of characters the main characters are as described above with a couple of additions. Erzelle and Olyssa, Olyssa’s sister Lilla and Reneer. So what can I tell you about the characters? Erzelle is only young, 12 I think, in fact I was surprised at first at just how young the author had made her but on second thoughts it seems you can do a lot with these young characters. I know at first there’s an element of ‘oh really’ but people brought up in different circumstances will react in different ways and will become completely different in character to those who live a charmed and protected life. I also think that by making Erzelle fairly young this gave the author the ability to some times make her seem immature and petulant without it being unrealistic in the eyes of the reader. Almost, yes, she’s young, she’s a product of her circumstances but also she’s still a child and that sometimes comes across. Olyssa is a great character. She strides around full of confidence. She doesn’t have a plan really just goes bursting into things with the self belief that things will be okay. She’s strong if somewhat misguided and also a little bit naive when it comes to her sister. Reneer was my favourite. He’s one of the mutations that have come about as result of the strange environment. Almost foxlike and tall. He’s witty and snarky and just the sort of person who it seems you can depend on in a fix. He made me laugh and he was also kind of cool in that whilst he was protective of those he cared for he didn’t overtake the show.
The world building isn’t really deep although the current circumstances are explained when Olyssa flashes back to the two sisters earlier home life. It seems that the magic is something that both sisters were born with inherent in their beings but in order to use this magic they have to embrace the dark side with possibly extreme results.
In terms of criticisms – I have two which are both relatively minor. I don’t quite understand the motivation for Lilla – short of wanting to be their father’s favourite maybe – I don’t understand how she could desire to achieve such destruction but then I suppose she’s just crazy with the desire for power. The second minor point is that I would have enjoyed more. I think that at the moment this is fairly compactly written and could have been expanded but perhaps that’s just me being greedy. It’s more usual to say that a book could be cut to make it more punchy but in this case I would have liked a bit more flesh on the bones.
I certainly would like to think that this was a starter to something more. I could easily see these characters taking on more adventures in a sort of chase between good and evil. I would definitely like more from these characters and a chance to see this world expanded upon
Lets hope for some more instalments. And, on a really cheeky note perhaps the author would like to stop on over for an interview so that I could throw some questions his way? Hey, stranger things have happened right??