Monday, December 28, 2015

New Fire – Philip Dickinson

New Fire – Philip Dickinson
A colleague mentioned this book to me when I happened to mention I was going to read a Bernard Cornwell novel next. I confess I had never heard of Philip Dickinson but the idea of a book set in the Aztec reader appealed to me, so I purchased it on a whim.
If I am honest, after a great opening scene which follows a gang of street urchins roaming the streets to steal food, I found the opening 80 pages or so of the story a little overwhelming. The sheer volume and variety of characters is a tad confusing, especially giving the unfamiliarity of their names (which verge from the unpronounceable – Huitzilopochtli, to the more identifiable such as "Feathered Darkness" or ""Crocodile"). In fact the only character I could emphasise with is the main character "Jaguar."
Having said that, I admired the author's refusal to dumb down the narrative for the reader, I am no expert on this time period, but the story felt authentic. The setting oozes life as each scene is vividly created.
All of a sudden, the book seems to click into place and what follows is an excellent, fast paced yarn, where I came to appreciate and enjoy all of the characters. As I mentioned Jaguar is the stand out protagonist as the young man struggling to find his way. He has potential in his agility on the sporting field but in regards to being a warrior very much lives in the shadow of his best friend Crocodile. It is refreshing that this is never a source of contention between the two friends and both are proud of each other.
Cloud Face is a little less developed but manages to avoid the cartoonish villain tag by having suitable motivation behind his action, whereas characters like Two Sign are terrific in the supporting role, offering laconic one liners and a nobility to the story.
The action scenes are very well handled and for a first novel, Dickinson's prose is extremely accomplished, pacing scenes perfectly and building tension and plot twists that are impactful. The novel was also fairly dark in places, which is something I always enjoy if it fits in with the story.
Whilst the ending is somewhat predictable in part of its outcome, with the writing o engrossing it really didn't matter. Overall, this debut novel surprised and impressed me and I have already purchased the sequel
My rating: 8 out of 10 

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