Pros: Fantastic premise and world
Cons: Some characterizations; over-thinking; a couple of ridiculous plot aspects; some sexual details that will be of limited appeal
Rating: 3 out of 5
When the Spartans fell at the Hot Gates, Ares gave Leonidas and six of his men a second chance: drink from the River Styx, and live forever as protectors of mankind. All of them agreed. Centuries later, they’ve more-or-less adjusted to the modern world, but some things have changed. They’ve given up their crimson cloaks in honor of their fallen comrades. They can sprout dread black wings when it’s time for them to do battle with demons. They follow the dictates of an Oracle that only one Spartan, Ajax, can see or hear. And Ajax, well, he’s nearly gone rogue. After so long of following a petty war-god’s dictates, he’s decided to remove himself from the game. The only thing that even kept him going that long was a long-ago prophecy that he would someday meet his soulmate, Shayanna, but he’s nearly given up on ever doing so.
The thing is, Shayanna’s finally been born and has reached adulthood. She can see the demons that populate the world, but no one will tell her why or what to do about it. And the Oracle has one more mission for Ajax—and this time, it isn’t from Ares.
The concept behind Red Fire is fantastic, and of course capitalizes on the fervor created by The 300: Ares, god of war, gave seven Spartans the chance to become fierce, immortal protectors of mankind. Of course, being a god of war, Ares likes to experience and witness epic battles, and war tends to devastate those around it as well as those taking part. So eventually the Spartans come to realize that all this talk of protecting humanity is a ploy to pit demons and Spartans against each other in clashes that, as often as not, are pointless or have bad ends, simply for Ares’s amusement. This nicely sets the stage for the Ajax’s prophesied human soulmate to come on the scene, giving him more than enough reason to not just try to sit things out, but actively fight back. And of course, where one Spartan goes, the others follow—or at least, they’ll darn well try. Even if it means facing off against a god.
The problem is, as much as I wanted to love this book, and as much as certain parts of it did at times grab hold of me and suck me in, just as often it left me with a little frown and a sense of things not being quite right. I know I said a couple of reviews ago that it’s often easier to review a book that I didn’t entirely like than one I loved, but this is the exception to the rule: it’s tough to review a book that I had problems with when the problems are an undercurrent to the book rather than large obvious flaws. I’ll do my best to verbalize the things that didn’t sit right with me.
First, and most obviously, the way in which Shayanna was kept ignorant of her heritage felt completely and utterly artificial. It was obvious from the start that she wasn’t a “normal” person, since she could see demons, but although she knew her brothers were demon-hunters, supposedly only men in her family could see them, and she had no idea why she was different. Her brothers, naturally, refused to teach her anything about the family “business” or let her anywhere near it. I might be able to accept this while rolling my eyes at it (and the fact that it’s such an incredibly over-used plot device at this point) up through the point early on in the book when the brothers learn that Shay is seeing and being stalked by demons. At this point it makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE WHATSOEVER that they still “protect” her by leaving her ignorant, because dammit, a moron with an IQ of 10 could see that this is doing the opposite of protecting her. This is a plot device pure and simple, included only to delay the inevitable revelation to the author’s chosen time, and having her brothers afterward think that yeah, they should have known better, doesn’t undo it or make the decision somehow reasonable and in-character. The idea that her mother also was in on the plot to leave her ignorant also makes no sense given later revelations—she more than anyone should have seen the necessity of teaching Shay to use her gifts.
But anyway. While that’s the largest of my complaints, it isn’t the only one. The portrayal of Shay feels rather schizophrenic, for example; the author tries to convince us in various places that she’s a strong female character, but for a strong female character she spends a lot of time needing to be rescued and a lot of time being silly, giggly, etc. Sure, it’s perfectly possible to have a strong female character that’s also feminine and even girlishly Southern, who at times fails and needs to be rescued or helped, but I don’t think Ms. Knight quite accomplished that with Shay.
One of the things that tended to slow down my reading of this book and cause me to not have as much difficulty putting it down as I often do with a good book was a tendency to over-talk things. By this I mean that action scenes contained too much over-thinking of what was happening. Dialogue scenes contained too much over-talking. It’s the sort of thing where you end up thinking, “okay, get on with it!”—it caused the pacing to be erratic and at times inappropriate. At times when I should have been caught up in a tense fight scene, instead I was saying “huh?” at the wording of said scene.
In addition, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the author handled the use of visions and prophecy in Red Fire. It’s possible to use such things in a plot without having them feel like arbitrary plot devices or deus ex machina, but it’s difficult, and I don’t think Ms. Knight entirely achieved that.
As for the adult material details (yes, there are a couple of sex scenes), again the pacing was a bit off, which interfered with immersion. And some of the details were of narrow enough appeal that they’ll shut out parts of the potential audience. For instance, Shay seems to have a real thing for feathers, and it turns out that Ajax’s wings aren’t the only places that grow feathers when he transforms. I have a feeling that while this will certainly appeal to some readers, there are plenty more who either won’t be interested or flat-out won’t want to read it. That’s more of an authorial choice, of course, but I figure if you’re considering reading the book you should know about that part before making your decision.
I rated this book as highly as I did because the story and premise really are fascinating, and there are some interesting characters and events in here. In particular the Delphic Oracle is a wonderfully refreshing and fascinating character that single-handedly makes the prophecy end of things halfway reasonable. But there are too many aspects of the writing and characterization that didn’t sit well with me, and too many plot aspects that felt arbitrary, random, or all-too-convenient for the author.