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Review: Fires of Man by Dan Levinson

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Fires of Man cover

About This Book

Supposedly the war between Calchis and Orion ended decades ago. But upon reporting to an isolated Orion army base for basic training, Private Stockton Finn learns the war still rages; only the weapons have changed, and Finn has been selected to become one of them.

Across the border, Calchan farm boy Aaron Waverly learns how determined his country is to win the war when he is abducted by a sinister government operative known as Agent. Trapped and learning to use deadly powers he’s never before imagined, Aaron struggles to reconcile his ephemeral faith with his harsh new reality.

As the two nations hurtle toward a resurgence of open hostilities, Finn and Aaron, Agent, and two Orion officers and former lovers—Nyne Allen and Kay Barrett—must prepare themselves for the inevitable clash. Meanwhile, Calchan archaeologist Dr. Faith Santia unearths a massive lost temple in the frozen tundra far to the north, which hints that the brewing conflict may only be the first of their worries…

Excerpt

1.
AGENT
He ran toward the edge of the cliff.

The sun beat down upon him as his limbs pumped. Earth crunched beneath his feet, and a breeze blew across his black-stubbled scalp. His breathing was calm, meticulously measured.

When the ground slipped away, he felt only anticipation.

Plummeting, the man inhaled. Power flooded into him, thrilling, delicious. He reached out with that power, warping reality with an energy born from the depths of his being. Suddenly . . .

He winked out of existence . . .

And then reappeared at the base of the cliff.

Ahead lay a farmstead, suffused in noontime light. Past its assorted buildings—barns and silos, stables and chicken coops—a field of wheat swayed like the hair of some sleeping giant.

It would burn soon.

Through his years of service, he’d been called many things: “raven”; “hellhound”; “black-hearted bastard.” There was but one epithet that mattered—the one he’d earned with blood, and devotion.

He was “Agent.”

A man with no name. A man who owed his nation everything.

Just then, he spotted his quarry—a teenage farmhand named Aaron Waverly. The boy had power—strong power, according to the readings.

Agent dashed toward the farm; dry winds kicked dirt and debris over his steel-toed boots. The expanse of greenery blurred past. He moved swift as a shooting star, his power saturating him with speed and strength.

When Waverly turned, and saw, it was too late.

Agent teleported behind Waverly, and struck once, at the base of the farmhand’s skull. The young man swooned, and Agent caught him, slung him over his shoulder.

“Stop!”

A frown split the crags of Agent’s face.

Before him stood a girl, no more than sixteen, a pitchfork clutched in her fingers. She was a pretty thing, her blonde tresses tied back in a ponytail, her face darkened by hours in the field. She was an innocent. Agent did not relish the thought of ending her. “Run,” he said.

“I’ll scream.” Her eyes flitted to the silenced pistol at his side. She hesitated.

He laid a hand on the gun. “Run,” he repeated.

She ran.

He drew his weapon and shot her in the back of the head.

She pitched forward, hit the ground, dead. Blood spread in a widening pool around her. Waverly groaned, eyelids flickering. Agent holstered the gun and looked at the girl. Killing civilians was distasteful, but she had seen him. He’d had no choice.

Now, time to go.

Agent stepped toward the nearby barn, and pressed his palm against the red-painted planks. He sent his power into it, and a ripple spread through the wood, like a pebble striking the surface of a pond. Furrows of heat fanned out from his fingertips, crackling furiously.

He turned away and teleported to safety.

Back atop the cliff, he paused to watch his handiwork.

Review

Fires of Man is a difficult book to review. There were some elements that I really enjoyed, and there were a few that puzzled me enough to leave me frustrated and unhappy. I’ll get into all of that.

There are shades of X-Men here: look, it’s like this. The youth develop powers, and these powers are often dangerous, right? These young people, in this case, are called Psionics. The protagonist (of these chapters) is Finn. He’s a younger sibling of several rough-and-tumble brothers. The Psionics are discovered by people in a satellite who sit around all day looking for bursts of power, and then people are sent to grab the newly special kids and, well…they need to learn how to control these powers, obviously. Anyone can see that. They need a nurturing environment in order to learn how to use these baffling but amazing abilities (shooting laser-like flames from their hands, super-speed, super-strength, shields, that sort of thing). And then these young people can become useful members of society, much less dangerous to themselves and others than they were before they took their own talents in hand. In a sane world, it makes some sort of sense.

Unfortunately, these young people don’t get a nurturing environment. They get conscripted by the military and trained with some tough love. There’s no Professor X here to make sure they are given a balanced and mentally healthy education. These kids are essentially trained like the lovable losers in the Vince Vaughn movie “Dodgeball.” They get shot with tennis balls and are told to throw up a shield. If they can block three balls, they get to take the day off. Most of them don’t get to take the day off. They are put into tight quarters with a bunch of other burgeoning tweens and teens, and expected to behave. Of course, you then have some issues with bullying, because every high school has ’em. Also, if you wash out, you’ll probably end up dead. Psionics are not allowed to return to civilian life. Good luck!

The basic concept there is intriguing. I like it. I enjoy Levinson’s skill in the written word. There are some really interesting things in this part of the book. I’ve read a few strong YA and NA titles lately, like Jenna Lincoln’s The Protector Project and Jacinta Maree’s Soulless. The basics of this portion fit in well there. I have some quibbles about some of the character traits–I don’t like the trope of the nerd who can’t help but stare at a girl, or the violent outburst that is rewarded by the pretty girl because she has low self-esteem and has never had someone stand up for her before. Yeah, there are people like this, and the characters are meant to be flawed, I’m sure. But I worry–and I’m a worrier, so I see that this is an issue for me that won’t be for some others–that this trope slips a little into the girl-as-reward thing. I probably dwelt too much upon it, but sometimes it happens. But moving beyond my own highly-responsive empathic abilities, this would make quite the YA series.

One oddity for me, though, is the book’s intended audience. If the whole book was about Finn and the Psionic teens, I’d say this is a YA book. Even Aaron, the kidnapped teen from the excerpt, could make his way into that book. There are some liberal F-bombs and some brutal, bloody passages dribbled about like chocolate syrup on vanilla ice cream. But YA is a broad realm of reading tastes, and books with “adult” language and violence are certainly viable in that market.

But then we also follow a few adults around–a noble Orion military officer and his tough-as-nails former flame, for example. Teens read about adults. These adults have very adult concerns. Relationship drama and fancy dinners, passive-aggressive arguments and things unsaid. I enjoyed these stories, too. I have a soft spot for the noble military officers in a lot of works (I am currently thinking of Django Wexler’s Marcus in The Thousand Names particularly,) so Nyne was one character I found myself excited to explore. One scene that really gripped me involved Nyne as he left a club and encountered a young man who had overdosed. Nyne’s emotions in this scene are powerful, and his reactions are realistic for his character. But it almost feels like a different book taking place in the same world at the same time–the adult ballast to the unstable teens. Though the adults are at least as unstable as the teens.

We follow a lot of other characters, third-person limited, over-the-shoulder style. We have those I’ve already mentioned: the noble commanding officer of the military and his tough-as-nails former flame, and Finn. We also have an archaeologist, a brutal Calchan called Agent–the man who shoots a girl in the back in the excerpt, he’s a bad (but complex) dude–and a boy, Aaron, who is kidnapped (this occurs in the excerpt above) and forced into a Calchan military unit.

This is a book about people first. Yes, it does feature a war between nations, and war and battles dominate the second half, but this isn’t about the nations or about war. The characters are individual from one another, and there is a lot to like about them. They grow and change. They aren’t perfect, and that’s good. The villains are deeply disturbed. Good people do bad things for the wrong reasons, and bad people do good things for the right reasons. Complexity abounds.

I am left with a lot of questions. The book ends with a lot unsaid, but another book is on the way. We’ll find out more. And there is enough going on, enough of the iceberg beneath the sea, that further books are absolutely supported. The world building is deep.

For some, this book will push all the buttons and move along in all the right ways. It wasn’t quite that book for me. I am glad I read it. I find myself curious enough about where the stories will twist in the next installment to consider moving forward with the series.

The book is currently available at Amazon as well as your favorite book retailer.

About the Author

51tHGgkCExL._UX250_Dan Levinson is a NY-based writer of speculative fiction. Trained as an actor at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, he also writes for the stage and screen. He grew up immersing himself in fantastical worlds, and now creates them. In addition to the Psionic Earth series, he is also the author of the upcoming YA fantasy novel The Ace of Kings, first book of The Conjurer’s Cycle.
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C Lee Brant

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C Lee Brant is the webmaster and founder of Galleywampus. He’s the fellow to contact if you want to set up a giveaway, blog tour, interview or request to review your work. He reads all sorts of books, but his focus lies in epic, military, literary and urban fantasy, children's and YA fiction, and sci-fi. He has an MLIS from SJSU.
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