Review: Dragon’s Fire (Beating Back the Darkness, Book 1)

A Shadow has fallen upon the world of Aurion. Slayvin, the Black Dragon, has awakened. His armies now march unchecked across the Darnisi continent, destroying all in their path. The elven kingdom of Trellion, the human realms of Storm Vale and Nashia, the orc clans of the Agremnall Hills and the dwarven mountain of Dar Mar’kren all lay in ruins, their survivors fleeing for the stronghold of Tempour, defended of old by the Brotherhood of the Unveiled Eye. 

But the walls of their refuge cannot keep the dragon’s power at bay forever. The only hope now lies in an ancient prophecy and a promised Champion from on high…

I received a free copy of Dragon’s Fire in exchange for a review. I would describe this book as a Christian allegory within an epic fantasy setting. But it’s much more than Pilgrim’s Progress meets Lord of the Rings. The imagined world and its characters are all self-contained, with their own backstory of Creation, Fall, and Redemption in the manner of Tolkien’s legendarium. Many pieces of biblical imagery (Dragons, Baalim, Magi, etc) are artfully repurposed and literalized within this context – I found the dragon antagonist and his false religious system particularly compelling. The background mythology of the dragon species itself was also fascinating, particularly how they essentially fill the role of demons/fallen angels within this universe. I also liked the fact that the book included some scenes from the point-of-view of the villain and his minions. I have read books where this is entirely absent and results in far less well-drawn characters.

The story world itself contains clear influences from both Tolkien and Lewis, with humans existing along fantasy races such as elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, gryphons, centaurs, etc. There are however, some highly original inversions to the mythology. Orcs, for example, are portrayed as a heroic people allied on the side of light – their more familiar role being filled by “Baalim” Minotaurs in the Dragon’s army. A key character in the story is a wise orcish chieftain who at one point even upbraids his warriors about the dangers of fleshly temptation. Interestingly, the villains even take advantage of the orcs’ negative reputation in order to control their human subjects through fear.

The world-building is richly imaginative and features a wealth of detail. The narrative itself is presented in places as a fragmentary chronicle of past events within the fictional universe. This is both a strength and a weakness, with appropriate exposition sometimes giving way to over-explanation. I also noticed a lot of paragraphs that contained belabored repetition, with a thought from one sentence being restated in the very next one. Some words seemed unnecessary (“though” kept cropping up at the end of a lot of sentences, for example), and there were a few instances of passive voice.

The widespread, epic scope of this narrative means that it embraces from multiple points of view and subplots. This is in keeping with an honored tradition of the fantasy genre and will doubtless appeal to its target audience. The major pitfall is that the book lacked an identifiable main character, which made the narrative feel less cohesive and led to a constantly shifting point-of-view.

The narrative is fast-paced, written in a highly cinematic style with lots of action, and takes place within short chapters. This makes for a quick, engaging reading experience, though sometimes it feels like things are moving too fast. The beginning of the book starts off the conflict immediately, which results in a reduced sense of the status quo ante – there’s little time to gain an attachment to the world and people that are now caught up in the destruction. On the other hand starting the action immediately inserts the reader directly into the story.

Well-written fantasy usually balances out the drama with a degree of humor and irony, and that was definitely present here.  Sometimes, though, it seemed like a bit much, with characters cracking jokes at random moments or during objectively serious serious points in the story. It also felt like the dialogue didn’t always match the setting: casual terms like “OK”, “guys,” etc seem more appropriate to a story set on 21st century earth. A more “elevated” and serious tone might have been more consistent with the quasi-medieval feel of the story.

These criticisms aside, the story is centered around a singularly impressive theme. In keeping with the allegorical tone, there is a clear Christological parallel that is nevertheless fully adapted to its imagined world. Elements of the biblical Messianic prophecies are artfully reordered, literalized, and combined to produce an original character. It reminded me in a lot of ways of how Second Temple Jews pictured the coming of the Messiah – though enough New Testament elements are retained to preserve its essentially Christian character without woodenly transcribing the biblical account.

A final caveat is the presence of light profanity, which occurs only briefly. I mention this just to make more sensitive readers aware. Beyond that, the book contains no other potentially objectionable content beyond some realistic descriptions of war and violence.

All in all, I would recommend Dragon’s Fire to fans of both epic fantasy and Christian allegory – an action-packed take of dragons, dwarves, elves and knights with a biblical message at the core. If you would like to see more of the world of Aurion, be sure to check out the sequel: The Halls of the Fallen King!


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