Fireflaught - Andrew Whitmore
HarperCollins Australia, May 1999, hc, 349pp, $14.95. Cover by Shaun Tan.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

Fireflaught is a reworking of an earlier novel, The Fortress of Eternity (Avon 1990). It opens in the city of Julkrease, a decaying city reminiscent of Leiber's Lankhmar. Isaf, a barbarian mercenary is hired to travel into the mountain wastelands of Eredrosia and retrieve a key. He will then meet his newfound employer, Pagad Trevayne, to receive payment. What Isaf does not know is that Trevayne plans to take the key Isaf has recovered, his sword, and a demi-god resurrected at the Well of Souls. With these he plans to search for the tower where the last of the gods who built the world dwells, and kill him.

The basic storyline is the stuff of far too many swords and sorcery novels, however Whitmore attempts to do something a little different, adding judicious references to William Blake and to a Tarot-like card system.

He also tries to make his characters more complex and well rounded than those usually found in swords and sorcery novels. Isaf, for example, was trained as a philosopher during his youth, but is treated by everyone as a near-mindless barbarian. His disgust at the injustices of the world brings a very modern sensibility to the novel. Isaf's companions are equally interesting. Cayla is a young prostitute who dreams of gaining her freedom, and living life on her own terms. Even Pagad is more than the usual mercenary chieftain. Unfortunately, after spending the early part of the novel developing these characters, Whitmore lets them lapse into stereotype as the plot unfolds.

There have been several attempts to reinvigorate swords and sorcery over the years - most notably Michael Shea's Nift the Lean sequence - and Fireflaught is clearly in that tradition. It is a reasonably entertaining novel, and a solid start to the Countenance Divine sequence.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.