The Waking Fire is the first book in Anthony Ryan’s Draconis Memoria trilogy and it is overall a good foundational book, which could’ve been great or amazing if it wasn’t for the weak first half. It’s practically impossible for me to do this review without mentioning Ryan’s Blood Song or Raven’s Shadow. It can’t be helped really, Blood Song is one of my favorite debut of all time and I’m sure Anthony Ryan himself is very well known because of his creation of that trilogy; for better or worse. I was super excited to begin Draconis Memoria and I did expect this to be a different type of series in comparison to Raven’s Shadow but I certainly didn’t expect it to be THIS different. Although by the end of this book I was engaged, thrilled, and excited to continue to the sequel, I have to admit that I struggled with a lot of parts of the book.
Let me state this once again, do not expect to get a Blood Song or Raven’s Shadow experience from this book, The Waking Fire is vastly different in every factor. It seems like Anthony Ryan is challenging himself by writing this trilogy, he combined a LOT of varying elements that at first glance doesn’t seem to belong in an epic fantasy book. I’m talking about combining Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Pirates of the Caribbean, dragons with Mistborn’s style magic system, into an epic fantasy with steampunk settings. It’s that unique and original but because of how much elements were put into this, I had a lot of trouble getting used to the ‘feel’ of the world. Not only this is different from the kind of books I usually read, I found the first half confusing just for the sake of making the book sound complex. A myriad amount of names, factions, places, magic system were immediately thrown out from the beginning and there wasn’t enough explanation for them. When I finished the book, I realized just how unnecessary the complexity in the first half was; I even wish for some bit of info dump in the beginning just so I can catch up to where what, and who these people are. This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy complex epic fantasy books, I actually do enjoy them immensely. I just think that Ryan didn't do a spectacular job on this explaining this section. I buddy read this book with my co-blogger, TS, and get this, she has read Malazan Book of the Fallen, the most complex epic fantasy series out there and even she think the first half of this book were so confusing. However, once I got used to them by the second half, I found the book ambitious and engaging, this is especially true in part three of the book.
“True change has never been bloodless.”
The book was told from three main POV and the three of them are super different from each other. I will be doing this review, explaining the parts that work and didn’t work, from these POV.
Lizanne is the James Bond aspect of this book. Ryan’s utilized spy element, plenty of actions revolving around the mix of intricate magic system and high tech gadgets. I found Lizanne’s story to be the easiest to get into, it was almost thoroughly enjoyable to read. Her character’s personality was well-developed, she has a lot of important roles for the book and trilogy, her actions scenes were great and she also has a connection with one of the other protagonist, Clay.
Clay is a thief and his story is where you’ll get the Indiana Jones aspect of the book. His story didn’t engage me immediately because to be honest, I dislike Indiana Jones and his story for the first two-part were pretty much Indiana Jones with dragons. His character development and story, however, kept on getting better and by the end, I found his story to be up there with Lizanne in terms of importance and greatness.
The last one though, Hilemore. Now this, this is where I have the most problem with. I have a lot of trouble in trying to enjoy Hilemore’s POV. Unlike Lizanne and Clay, his story felt like it belongs in another book for the entirety of the book. It totally felt like reading a different book because his story has very little connection to the plotline except for his last two chapters, which were only around 20 pages; I found the rest of them unnecessary and they dragged the quality of the book down. Not only that, his POV is extremely nautical battle heavy full of ship jargons with very little character development. This doesn’t mean that the nautical battle itself is bad; it’s well-written and the actions are great. However, like every book I read, characters take the utmost priority. If I didn’t care about the character, like the case with Hilemore, the action can be as amazing as possible and it won’t matter to me. Even by the conclusion of this book I still think of him as a stranger and in my opinion, he didn’t need a POV at all. In fact, part 3 of the book became the best section for me because he only has two short chapters in it. I hope Ryan can improve on this aspect in the sequels and this time, make sure he truly belongs in the trilogy other than being there for the sake of showing a naval battle sequence.
Although my review sounded more negative than positive, I actually found part 3 of the book redeemed a lot of the struggle I had with the book and at the same time it also set up the story for the sequels wonderfully. I already have the ARC of the last book in the trilogy so obviously, I will continue reading the sequel immediately. Overall, The Waking Fire is a good foundational start for the trilogy and I hope the groundwork will pay off in the sequels