Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Enter the fantasy world of Chris Wooding with the action adventure story The Ember Blade. Designed for a Young Adult generic there is plenty of action to satisfy most young people. Beneath the gloss is a series of action scenes cobbled together by not much else.
Thirty years before the story opens, Kroda invaded Ossia. The Krodans, as a people, took a supercilious look at the Ossians and decided that Kroda had much to impose on the conquered nation. However, living under the thumb of their conquerors was not all bad. Banditry was a minor problem and roads were well maintained. Aren, a lad of sixteen, lives in blissful innocence the life of a young Ossian noble. Then his world is shattered. His father is executed and he and his carpenter friend Cade are thrown into a prison for life. Naturally they escape.
Only now does the story gain interest. A handful of characters emerge. There is the indomitable Grub the Skarl, a group of rebels led by the Hollow Man who is cursed with a hatred for Aren. Fleeing the Kodans and a bunch of supernatural trackers, Aren and the rebels join forces with a druidess. She is searching for a hero who will fulfil a Druidic philosophy. Then our small bunch of rebels with Aren, Cade and the Druidess reach Skavenhald. Believe me, this place should not appear on your vacation ‘must-see’ list. It is a weird place inhabited by very strange characters all homicidally inclined.
After this the book becomes an engrossing action adventure that leads to a hugely compelling climax. Characters that the reader would not expect to die are dispatched at intervals but, by and large, the story develops as one might expect.
At this stage I was still scratching my head over any reason why the book was called ‘The Ember Blade’. The author makes reasonably clear what the blade is but it plays so little part in the story that I think that, as a title, it is weak. I was swept away by the settings which are either very beautiful or awesome or both. When the action lies outside the landscapes are drawn sufficiently to make us believe in their beauty, but the author does not exploit that beauty. He seems too eager to get on with the action.
There is much that could have been said about the characters. I remember Garric as a man with a large scar across his throat and a burning hatred for Aren. I don’t remember much about the druidess, and as for her dog, I found myself stopping at an action scene where the dog was attacking a grown man, and puzzling over the vision I had of a dog that was Fox Terrier size. I had never been told, or else the information was scant that the dog was really a wolf-hound.
We can guess that the hero the Druids foretold is Aren, not Garric as the Druidess had supposed. We have then a fearless young man of sixteen, possessing interpersonal skills that cause people to follow his lead, a young man with adrenaline coursing through his blood, who can’t bring himself to look at the naked female character Fern, and who seems at all times to be aware of her presence but unprepared to make more of her and their interaction. Fern is a much more interesting character than Aren, and comparisons aside, she is an intriguing person in her on right.
I think that Gooding has a fine talent that needs mentoring. He misses too many opportunities to make this a good book. If he had developed his characters and spent more time with his descriptions he could easily have turned his 824 page book into two volumes.
I must take issue with the publisher who does this author no favour. The softcover version that I read was uncontrollable in my hands until I reached page 100 or thereabouts. The book remained balanced until the final one hundred pages when, once again, I was struggling to keep track of the story, the characters, the action, and the bloody book that kept falling out of my hands.
Chris Gooding is a novelist, script writer and musician who has been building a name for himself in each of his main interests. He lives in Kent in the UK. He is a man of immense talents who needs assistance in developing his innate abilities. Despite its physical size and a number of weaknesses, I enjoyed the book.
The Ember Blade
By Chris Gooding