Yesterday, I had a guest post from Michael Meyerhofer, whose blog tour is continuing through the next few weeks. Today, I’m reviewing his dark fantasy novel, Wytchfire, the first in the Dragonkin trilogy.
If the twelve lost their focus, the Nightmare would free itself. It would incinerate not just Syros but the army in front of it, including the Shel’ai who had once been its friends. Fadarah tried to gaze upon the monstrosity shambling forward at the center of the twelve’s broad circle but quickly wrenched his eyes away, sickened. Iventine chose this. No one forced him, least of all me.
I don’t review a lot of adult fantasy on here – I’m definitely more of a YA girl – but I really enjoyed this book. It’s well-written, the characters are interesting, and the worldbuilding is gorgeous. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into constructing
One of the things that I love about Wytchfire is that we get to see many different sides of this war and understand all of the motivations around it. The book starts out with a view of our attacking army, which is led by Shel’ai – those born with dragonmist, with magic. Humans are prejudiced against the Shel’ai on two fronts: they’re Sylv, which is another race, and they’re magical. Humans hate them. They’re not welcome in human lands, and they’re often not welcome with the Sylv, and they’re sick of it. They’re sick of the oppression. They’re angry, and they’ve created a weapon to aid them in their war – the Nightmare, who was once one of them, but sacrificed himself to become something far more powerful.
You get this POV chapter with the Shel’ai’s commander, you see into his mind, and if you’re me, you empathize with him. You become enamored to his cause a bit. Then we switch to Rowen and the Human side of things, and your loyalties get a bit muddled.
So, for that matter, do Rowen’s. The Nightmare was not the only Shel’ai to sacrifice themselves and try for this great power. So did a woman, Silwren. The Nightmare’s transition was botched because he was woken too early, Silwren was allowed to wake on her own. This lets her have way more mental stability, but the magic still took its toll. Rowen finds her, and once he’s decided she isn’t a threat to humanity, he starts to feel his own loyalties pulled towards her. This doesn’t exactly endear his fellow Humans to him, but Rowen’s a fighter that believes in honor (which makes him pretty endearing to me).
Since this is called the Dragonkin trilogy, you might be wondering – what about the dragons? I’m a huge sucker for dragons, especially (for some reason) extinct dragons, which is what Wytchfire has. People know they existed because the bones are lying around like dinosaurs, but no one’s ever really seen one. There are religious sects that super worship them, the bones are sold and used for crafting weapons and other items. Dragons may not roam this world anymore but they’re still part of it, and I liked that a lot.
The world building, story, and all around writing definitely gets Wytchfire four stars, easy, I loved it, but I do have one big criticism.
Wytchfire has a bit of a lady problem.
The main female character is Silwren, and although this is a multiple-POV novel, she never gets her own POV chapters. That’s understandable at the beginning, when she’s in a magically induced coma, but even after she wakes and is set up to become a major player, we continue to only see her through the eyes of male characters. She’s obviously very magically powerful, but there’s more concentration on her beauty and the way she arouses romantic and sexual feelings in the men than on her power, and she spends an awful lot of time passing out and needing to be saved.
The only female character to get any POV time is Aeko Shingawa – the hardcore female knight that trained Rowen, who is frequently belittled by her fellow soldiers because of her sex. She was interesting, though, and I wanted more of her. Way more. Like I would read a whole book just about Aeko.
The only other female characters with (sort of) significant speaking roles are an unnamed prostitute that sleeps with Rowen and gives him some valuable exposition on the war and a healer on the side of the Shel’ai. The male characters are all interesting, with motivation and depth, but what important ladies there are fizzle in comparison.
There’s also a TW here for rape. Although there’s no graphic, in-scene rape (the worst is a few lines of what seems to be a sexual assault), there are plenty of mentions that tell us rape occurred, as part of sacking cities, living in slums, and one of the POV characters was the product of rape.
I know the argument that, well, rape is something that happens, and is not uncommon in areas at war. That’s sadly very realistic. I’m just not sure I agree that it’s a necessary part of storytelling, particularly in a story where women play such a small role. Because there are so few female characters at the forefront, most of the mentions of women end up being about rape, which is – well, problematic.
You might not be as bothered by it as I was, and this didn’t exactly destroy the book for me. Obviously, I enjoyed it. I give it four stars. Meyerhofer is a great writer, and I look forward to the rest of the trilogy – I just hope the lady problem gets fixed.