Raising Fire by James Bennett

Raising Fire (Ben Garston Book 2)
Author: James Bennett
Publisher: Orbit Books
Page count: 386 pp.
Release date: 29 Aug 2017
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin
So, here we are, at the second instalment of the Ben Garston trilogy, and without too many spoilers, here’s what happened.
Ben, a dragon when not in his human form, fought battles, got drunk, lost the love of his life – temporarily.
There is, or was, a kind of accord, that so long as the beasts and magical kinds (remnants) didn’t meddle in human affairs, they’d be safe. Ben broke that rule. Or Lore- said in serious Judge Dredd voice.
Ben, an ‘awake’ Remnant – one of the chosen few – had been allowed to see and remain awake throughout history, and it had made him jaded, apart from how he saw his Rose, the love of his life.
Seriously though, as Ben says,
“ … inside his cavernous heart, bitterness beat like a drum.” Rose had told him to go away, for spoiler free reasons at this point – and he knew better than to argue. So he’d wandered the frozen realms of the planet, feeling sorry for himself until he looked like a red-headed Santa Claus.
What with mummies, and dragons and dwarves, oh my, we had an action packed first book. Now though, the adventure continues, and as with all second instalments in a trilogy, we have the building blocks to the finale, pieces in a puzzle partly answered, and a cliffhanger to bounce us into Burning Ashes, the third book out Dec 2018.
At the start of this one, ‘Raising Fire’, Ben’s currently, metaphorically flogging himself to death flying through the wintered, watery skies of Norway, reflecting on the delights of 1215.
Yes, Red Ben is old, and cynical.
But, there is, just a short spell into this second book, a difference in authorial voice and tone.
I’m wary about saying this, yet at the same time – need to say it – the author Bennett appears to have grown in style, techniques and cynicism.
And that’s no critique. His writing is more fluid, and confident.
This is a stronger voice here, as Ben goes into his second ‘adventure’.
That adventure starting with being lured by the sound of a magical harp, or a third of it that is, and being drugged and captured by a seven foot female assassin – a ‘Sister’ An assassin of the Whispering Chapter. Apparently, the new version of a magical government – think a grimmer Ministry of Mayhem in Hogwarts terms – has condemned him to death during his absence. But, they want information first. So, he is shackled using a cuff forged from pieces of mystical metal, lunewrought, which will restrain him in human form. The whispering chapter wants to know how to find Von Hart, the envoy guarding one piece of the harp.
The novel blends Arthurian and ancient Chinese legend, religious mythology and fae elements in a contemporary setting.
The scenes in Paris, are written with a poetic love, much like Anne Rice writing of New Orleans in Interview with the Vampire; both texts embedded with lush visuals and passion. I happen to know Bennett enjoys travelling, but if I hadn’t known of his travels, it would be evident from the way he writes about the different cities and historical periods throughout the novel.
Ben’s jaded sense of humour, the neo-noir vibe speckled with urban fantasy
Xanadu – Jia being other – and, as Bennett puts it, “she had committed the unpardonable sin of not being male;”, all work together to produce a fantastic story with modern sentiments.
Jia’s time at court is spent being reminded of her lesser status every day. How dare a woman take on a role generally associated with men?
Narrating the past, Jia thinks about the imprisonment of the ‘remnants’ or mythical creatures, and the sleep they have been put in.
“Abandonment, loneliness, loss – these were the ghosts of all Remnants”
And perhaps the ghosts of every disenfranchised person? Bennett is clearly celebrating the voice of ‘other’ in this novel, not only through characters, but through rich, lush, lands.
When we are in Ben’s head, the Dresden/Noir narrative takes over.
I particularly liked Garston’s jaded thoughts about the world he now finds himself in. “The usual carousel of doom and gloom slid across the screen. Melting icecaps. War in the Middle East. A baboon of a president … It was enough to give anyone a headache.”
… saying nothing here.
Overall, this is a step above the first book in the trilogy and Bennett’s writing has grown considerably, which is normally the case with debut authors.
The only issues I had with the book was the switch through time periods, but this is mostly due to my own cognitive function issues. However, I loved travelling through these historical periods with Ben.
And speaking of Ben, I kind of have a literary character crush on him.
Ben is a grumpy, surly, yet strong and honest dragon.
What’s not to love?
Competition – email me proof of pre-ordering #BurningAshes Ben Garston  3 by midnight 10th Dec UK only, and be entered into a draw to win a red dragon (soft toy) called Ben

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