Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"The Fire King," by Marjorie Liu

The Chick: Soria. A former member of the magical Dirk and Steele Detective Agency, she's hired to translate for a dangerous, captured creature who speaks a dead language.
The Rub: She soon discovers that shady dudes with guns are far more dangerous - and much less sexy - than her ancient charge.
Dream Casting: NCIS's Cote de Pablo.

The Dude: Karr. A powerful chimera, he awakens inside a tomb and is swiftly captured by powerful forces and discovers a woman who can somehow speak his language - although none of this is as weird as the fact that he supposedly died three thousand years ago.
The Rub: Even three thousand years can't erase the sins he committed as leader of his people, or his genetic predisposition towards insanity.
Dream Casting: Brad Pitt.

The Plot:

Karr: *wakes up* Huh, shouldn't I be dead?

Shady Dudes: Funny thing about that. *captures*

Other Shady Dudes: Soria, we need your translating skills!

Soria: Sure why not? Um, but why am I translating for a powerful shifter in an iron body-cage?

Karr: I was wondering the same question.

Shadier Dudes with Guns: Capture them both!

Soria and Karr: *escape*

Karr: Man, I totally love you, but I'm dark and lonely and possibly a psychotic killer!

Soria: Man, I totally love you, but I'm maimed and lonely and ... you are built like a stevedore so who cares?

Karr: YAY!

All the Shady Dudes at Once: Who's up for a Super-Magical-Race War?

Karr: No, thank you!

All the Shady Dudes: Awww..... :(

Soria: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Broody King with a Daaaark Paaaast

1 Independent Heroine with a Daaaark Paaast

4 Unintentional Psychic Gloms

1 Angry Dragon

1 Tasty Goat

1 Helpful Grad Student

1 Surprise! Frenemy

The Word: Few authors have managed the powerful literary double-tap with me - where I read one book and am enthralled, then read their second book and become a Fan For Life. Majorie Liu manages to live up to the awesomeness that is The Wild Road with The Fire King, the RITA-nominated 9th book in her Dirk & Steele series of paranormal romances.

Soria used to be a member of Dirk & Steele, contributing to the paranormal detective agency with her unique psychic ability to learn and understand any language she hears. However, after losing her right arm in a horrific encounter, she's spent the last year living in seclusion, barely coping with her altered lifestyle, unable to bear public scrutiny, and tormented by her phantom limb. On her way to a job interview as a translator for the UN, she's intercepted by people sent by Dirk & Steele with an important assignment - they've captured a violent, dangerous creature, but his language is so old that it's virtually died out and they need her psychic skills of translation.

For his part, Karr, a man with the power to shape-shift between dragon and lion, wasn't surprised about waking up in a tomb. After all, he has pretty clear memories of dying - and of asking for death. No, the very fact that he's alive is the real shocker. Raised in a time period when his kind were at war with pure-blooded shape-shifters, Karr knows he can't trust anyone at the paranormal facility where he's held captive - not even the beautiful woman who can somehow speak his language.

During her brief conversations with the prisoner, Soria can't quite see Karr as the monstrous, violent shifter her superiors insist he is. So when unknown soldiers storm the facility - with orders to take both Karr and his translator alive - Soria takes a risk and frees Karr from his bonds so that the two can escape into the Mongolian steppes.

Strange things are afoot at Dirk & Steele, apparently, and Soria doesn't know who to trust. Neither does Karr - in his day, all shape-shifters were the enemy, and so he should label Soria an enemy simply for associating with them. However, he's now trapped in a world where he's 3000 years out of date, and the one person he can communicate with is Soria so it looks like they'll have to stick together.

Where do I start with how good this novel is? Well, first of all the paranormal element is really well handled - while it's integral to the story it doesn't overpower the very human development of the romance, and it adds colour to the action scenes without taking away from the suspense or oversimplifying the violence.

As in The Wild Road, the language is exquisite. While Liu provides lots of external conflict, the internal conflict takes centre stage and she paints her protagonists in a hundred different shades of loneliness that take into account both the human aspect of the romance in the story as well as the magical aspect of the paranormal in the story.

Both Karr and Soria struggle to be defined by something other than their physical freakishness. Karr's ability to shift between two skins (dragon and lion) renders him an abomination to pure shape-shifters. To humans, he was both a god and a demon. To his own kind, he was the leader upon whom their safety depended. Therefore, being seen simply as a man by the ever-practical Soria is something he'd never even thought to hope for.

Similarly, Soria wants to be seen as a woman, not as a cripple - but that's something even she has trouble managing. The tendency of most people to look away from her arm, as if willing it not to exist - as if willing Soria not to exist - has eaten away a fair share of her personal identity, but the determination, trust, and just plain gumption she demonstrates leading Karr to safety demonstrates she hasn't lost her identity, but simply forged a new one, one Karr comes to care very deeply about. This conclusion is only strengthened by reading the holyshit scene detailing how she loses her arm, which I won't spoil because it needs to be read to be truly appreciated.

If The Fire King has anything even remotely resembling a flaw, I suppose it's the fact that Lannes isn't in it. Even then, it makes up for it with a mystery suspense plot that is a hair more coherent than The Wild Road's (where Lethe's exact history still puzzles me even by the end of the novel).

The lack of gorgeous bookworm gargoyles aside, The Fire King is a spectacular read and I wish it the best of luck at the 2010 RITAs!


  1. Vorkosigrrl11:39 AM

    Hey, AnimeJune,

    Did you ever read A Dream of Stone and Shadows? The hero is Lannes' brother, Charlie. I keep waiting for the revew, since you had said you got it at the library. Or a library sale. Whatever.

    Liu really is a terrific writer.

  2. Anonymous1:17 PM

    I've been collecting this series since your review of TWR, but haven't started it yet. I have book 2 but not book 1, which irritates me! -- willaful