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The International Writers Magazine:Myths and 21st Century Dragons

The Fire Eternal by Chris d’Lacey
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Orchard (5 Jun 2008)
ISBN-10: 1846164265
ISBN-13: 978-1846164262
Frances Lewis review

Warning! Reading The Fire Eternal by Chris d’Lacey without any prior knowledge of the world he has created within these pages can leave you feeling slightly overwhelmed, faintly incredulous and maybe even begrudgingly impressed. That he has skilfully crafted whole mythologies and legends out of thin air and woven them expertly into our known universe is not to be sniffed at; if only I had read his previous books that dealt with these same massive themes (The Fire Within, Icefire, Fire Star) then I might not have been so snowed under by the sheer density of plot.

In a squirrel’s nutshell: this book contains (in no particular order) polar bears, dragons, sibyls, microscopic alien life forms, monks, fairies, ecological disaster, Inuit legend, ravens, quantum physics, magic, phantom squirrels and rifts in time. The story starts innocuously enough – it has been five years since David Rain, author of the cult book White Fire, mysteriously disappeared whilst on a field trip in the Arctic. Believing him to be dead, his girlfriend Zanna Martindale carries on with life as usual, looking after their young daughter Alexa and running a New Age shop in the sleepy town of Scrubbley. They live with Liz Pennykettle and her daughter 16-year-old Lucy, and Liz’s partner, Arthur. And that’s about as normal as it gets. When Zanna frets about Lucy’s behaviour she says, ‘Look at us. We live in a house of flying dragons, with a cat that has an alien life form sharing its psyche. We’re the product of a time when dragons ruled the earth and bears ruled the Arctic. We’re the kooks on the block.’

Indeed, d’Lacey has given the 21st century family a quirky slant. The dragons are created from clay by Liz (herself descended from a dragon) and the ones not sold as ordinary sculptures down the market are brought to life and quietly have the run of the household, each fostering their own special abilities – there is even one who can scan documents and load the ‘dragonware’ onto regular computers. This cosy-ish existence is threatened when an investigative reporter, Tam Farrell, starts enquiring about David and his Arctic activities, stirring up mixed emotions for Zanna. Lucy, a typical hotheaded teenager, is adamant that David is alive and believes that with Tam’s help they could solve the mystery of David’s disappearance. Zanna is wary of his involvement, however, and events soon turn awry.

The action cuts between Scrubbley and another plot strand taking place in the Arctic. Here we follow the adventures of a trio of polar bears: the Teller Avrel, the fighting bear Kailar, and their leader, Ingavar. Together they must recover the Fire Eternal, an almighty force that would either ‘turn the planet inside out’ or save the world, depending on whom you believe. With the help of a sea goddess, a sibyl trapped in the form of a raven and a host of Inuit spirits, they traverse the melting ice and more is revealed about the threat Earth faces from the Ix, a not-so-friendly alien race determined to ‘commingle’ with humans and create Darklings. And that’s only a very small part of it, believe me!

Switching from one storyline to another, almost chapter by chapter, is effective and maintains a pacy narrative flow. The chapters are relatively short but packed with action and information, and usually end with neat cliffhangers. However, Lucy’s teen-speak didn’t convince me (‘Take a chill pill, won’t you?’) and I’m not sure who the book is aimed at either – older teenage girls might garner some satisfaction from the romantic tension between Zanna and Tam, younger readers will love the playful antics of all the different dragons – but the complex mythologies are hard to penetrate and on the whole, the book feels like it’s building towards something and never actually delivers…until the next instalment comes along, that is.

I feel like the environmental message is a bit lost amongst all that legend, but will hopefully come to the fore in the following book. The author writes with a gentle, knowing humour and has created well-rounded, believable characters. His background in science is evident (‘The Ix are meeting resistance…from human-Premen descendants who are beginning to understand the harmonics of the universe and the relationship between consciousness, creativity and time’ – and that’s a polar bear talking!) and he clearly revels in his universal themes. If I had been better prepared – or better read – then I might have enjoyed this book much more. I advise everyone to read the first three before embarking on this one!

© Frances Lewis June 2008
frances_lewis at

Frances is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth. She teaches and writes for children.

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