Friday, February 24, 2012

Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies

Allegory is a powerful storytelling tool, as author David Clement-Davies proves with this formidable fable of hierarchy, warfare, and religious faith, conveyed through the backdrop of the animal kingdom. A skillful blend of history, mythology, and a travel writer’s observations of nature, Fire Bringer is a wonderfully compelling anthropomorphic fantasy that should appeal to fans of authors such as Richard Adams and Philip Pullman.

Set in ancient Scotland during the throes of Norse invasion, a red deer named Rannoch is born the night his father, the Lord of the Herd, is murdered, and bears a white spot on his brow in the shape of an oaken leaf; a mark which, according to a prophecy, identifies him as savior and liberator of his herd. When the tyrannical Lord Sgorr’s reign of terror intensifies, Rannoch flees the herd and begins a treacherous odyssey that pits him against all his natural predators, while he grapples with his faith in the deer god Herne. Gifted with visions of the future, and the ability to speak to other animal species, Rannoch also embarks on a spiritual journey proves to be as enthralling as his struggle for survival and mission to restore the natural order; all of which build and culminate into a resonant finale.

Far from depicting the generic good versus evil dichotomy, Fire Bringer does not shy away from moral ambiguity. For instance, the villainous Sgorr remains sympathetic throughout the novel, as he is driven to violence by exile and persecution. Adding to the story’s complexity is Rannoch’s internal struggle as he transgresses the line between predator and prey, befriending human beings and even a wolf during his travels.

Clement-Davies is a skilled wordsmith who favors lush descriptions and yet is never excessive. He conjures vivid images of the natural world and its beauty and peril, and unflinchingly portrays both its triumphs and tragedies; meaning there’s no shortage of blood and gore, and readers should brace themselves for the deaths of characters they grow attached to, especially during the final battle scene where the aforementioned prophecy comes full circle.

Fire Bringer should appeal to a variety range of audiences, such as fantasy lovers, fans of historical fiction, and those who enjoy a good war epic. Needless to say it satisfies on many different levels and, as Clement-Davies’ first novel, surely helps him succeed at making a name for himself.

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