The Fire King
by Marjorie M Liu, fantasy (2009)
Leisure, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-5940-6


I thought Marjorie M Liu's previous Dirk & Steele book, The Wild Road, pretty slow and frustrating, but The Fire King makes that one look like an action-packed adventure in comparison. I don't know if it's because the author is experiencing a rut or I am becoming bored of the formula, but I do know that this book is in trouble when I nearly doze off during the middle parts of the story.

It all began when they unearthed a tomb in a remote corner of China that borders Russia and Mongolia and discovered a living man inside. This man has no clear idea what happened or why he was alive. Therefore, Roland of Dirk & Steele and the naughty shifter mercenary woman Serena McGillis rope in our heroine, Soria, to help communicate with this fellow. Soria is something of a psychic - she can automatically understand and speak any language while in the presence of a native speaker of that language. As a result, she is the only one who can understand the man called Karr. After all, Karr's language and perhaps his people have been dead for at least 3,000 years. The usual happens: bad guys show up with guns, and in the distraction Karr breaks out, taking Soria with him. Can she trust him? What is he? And why do people, especially the shifters, want him dead?

The start of the story is intriguing while the last few chapters are the only places where something happens. For a long time, Soria and Karr are wandering around, giving me a very nice tour of Gobi Desert and surrounding areas. While I'll be more than happy to enjoy the scenery, I expect a story in this series to be a little more lively than this. Soria and Karr are very underdeveloped characters. Oh, I know their background, but characterization is superficial and rarely go beyond the author offering a laundry list of tragedies in their past. Karr has a "Noble Savage" vibe to him that would allow him to fit very well - disturbingly - in a typical offensive Native American romance. The "romance" is more like a philosophical discussion on one's finer feelings. It's great that Soria is so attuned to Karr's issues just as it is great how these two always have some awesome and inspiring words of wisdom for each other's angst. Yet, the whole thing comes off more like a tea party between two verbose disciples of Sai Baba rather than two lovers passionately into each other.

The Fire King contains more filler scenes than I'd have liked. The earlier books in the series are well-paced and very action-packed fun reads. I wish the author will be able to recapture some of the magic of those previous books for her next book in this series. The Fire King is more lukewarm than sizzling hot.

Rating: 66


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