Full disclosure: I received this ARC from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. This is also my first Anthony Ryan book, so my viewpoint may be less biased, if less informed.
The Waking Fire, first in the new Draconis Memoria series, had basically everything I want out of a high fantasy epic. We had a political intrigue plot, warring nations, drakes, and superpowers. It takes place in a mythical land where certain people are born “blood-blessed,” meaning that they can take in the blood of drakes and harness its power in the form of speed, mental powers, control, etc. based upon the type of drake it is from. Immediately, I was drawn to the fact that being blood-blessed are a random group, not selected based on money or circumstance- it is just a fluke of their genetics. Given the immense powers that the blood-blessed have, there is a huge demand for drake blood, and like any hot commodity, the resource is slowly becoming scarce. The Ironship Trading Syndicate is a company that owns huge swaths of land based on their profits from the blood trade alone, and if the blood no longer floweth, they will be at war with neighboring Corvantine Empire, whose ruler is hungry for power.
Given that setup, the reader follows three different points of view: Clayden Torcreek, an undocumented blood-blessed thief; Lizanne Lethridge, wealthy blood-blessed who is trained as an assassin and spy for the Syndicate; and Corrick Hilemore, second lieutenant on an Ironship cruiser that is powered by blood-blessing.
Clayden finds himself on the hunt for the illusive myth of the White Drake, whose blood can mean the salvation or demise of the world, Lizanne finds herself in the heart of enemy territory with doubts of her mentor’s purpose, and Corrick is on a ship whose mission is to pursue pirates, but end up in a lot deeper waters. These three must fulfill their destinies to save the world, etc etc. Are they fit?
I found the plot to be, while epically organized in structure, still pretty original. I loved the character growth in all three of them as well as the supporting crew, which is important. Anthony Ryan is clearly a great writer.
The novel itself dragged a little in certain places- Corrick Hilemore, while a strong character in himself, had a bit of a drab backdrop for a while. The myth of the White Drake is also not fully fleshed out and some parts are confusing. However, if you love the genre, you will be very grateful for pushing through the slow to get to the meat of this story. Definitely recommend to my fantasy lovers, not so much to my short story readers. Fans of Tolkien can sympathize.
Four waves out of five! The Waking Fire comes out on July 5th, just in time for your summer beach reading!