The Fire Seer is a tough book to review and it’s one that I had mixed feelings about. Not only does this one fall into a number of genres it also features a somewhat troubling romance.* That said, I did enjoy reading this one and I found the ancient world, filled with magic to be interesting, especially since a woman seems to hold equal status as a man, something that I would not have expected in a more antiquated setting.
Taya is from a low, farmer caste, only her capability as a fire seer has allowed for her to move upward in this society. Unfortunately, Taya unimpressive roots make her a target at the school where she studies. The most vocal of these bullies is Mandir, bastard son of a noble, who is so confused by his attraction to Taya that he reacts by centering her out. This bullying is not harmless and Taya almost dies because of one of their tricks.
Fast forward five years and Taya is now a fully qualified Coalition member on her first mission. As a member of Coalition, Taya and her assigned partner are to investigate the possible activities of a jackal: “someone magical who operates outside the authority of the Coalition”. Taya is surprised to find her partner to be none other than Mandir. Why the Coalition would pair these two with their history is unknown, but in order to complete their task, they are going to need to find some way to work together. As I said, The Fire Seer is a novel that spans several genres. It’s a mystery, a fantasy and a romance. Personally, I really like the fact that this one plays with the concept of genres. I love genre fiction and I love it when concepts or tropes from my favourite genres are combined in new ways. I think The Fire Seer did a great job of straddling multiple genres and I think it contributed to the fast-pace of the novel, which kept me flying through the pages.
Since I am an avid romance fan, I was interested in the romance aspect of this; however, it was the element that troubled me the most. I enjoyed reading about it, but I also felt weird about reading it since the “hero” is a reformed bully. Through flashbacks readers are treated to Mandir and Taya’s interactions when they were both in school together. The things that Mandir said and did to Taya are terrible, and I’m not sure how I feel about this guy playing the part of the hero. On one hand, I think the author did a good job at explaining Mandir’s motivations and his own childhood that fostered this type of attitude, but I was still left feeling a little uncomfortable with the romance. For example, Mandir explains his fixation on Taya, and I can’t help but find it creepy rather than romantic:
He’d been fifteen years old the day he first laid eyes on Taya, and he’d been obsessed with her from that day forward. If his fixation had been sweet and innocent, it might have been manageable. But it wasn’t. His desire had never been to hold Taya’s hand and write her love poems. What he’d wanted to do with her, to her, even at that tender age…well, he couldn’t blame her for being frightened of him. He’d tried everything to free himself of the obsession, from tormenting her and pushing her away to, later, reversing tactics and actively pursing her in hopes that one torrid night might satisfy his twisted list. The torrid night had never taken place – she’d refused him repeatedly – and nothing had tamed the beast within except to leave Mohenjo Temple entirely.
Do people get over these stalkerish tendencies? Mandir seems like a completely different person outside the flashbacks and the obsessive thoughts of his youth are, frankly, disturbing. That said, there was something about this romance, that I couldn’t help but keep reading, perhaps because the present Mandir contrasted so strongly with the one from the flashbacks. Also, I think it helped that Taya so obviously distrusted Mandir and continued to be wary of him. Even after his explanation of why he treated her the way he did, she still doesn’t let him off the hook:
“I did it because I was in love with you,” said Mandir.
Taya rolled her eyes. “Ridiculous. Give me the real reason.”
“That is the real reason,” said Mandir. “Do you remember the day we met, when I showed you how to eat lirry fruit?”
“I remember.” Her eyes went distant, and she looked sad.
“I fell in love with you the instant I laid eyes on you,” said Mandir. “But I was horrified by that.. You were a farmer! I was a bastard, and I didn’t want that discovered. To throw off suspicion, I associated exclusively with the ruling caste. I pushed you away, publicly and emphatically, determined I should fall out of love with you.”
“Mandir, you can’t treat someone like that and call it love.”
Ultimately, I think I dealt with the romance because Taya did not automatically forgive Mandir for his past actions, it takes more than a simple explanation for her to trust Mandir and I think that’s important if a hero is going to be a former bully. Still, it’s a tough sell in the romance genre, at least, for me.
Another thing to note about the romance is the fact that this is the first in a series featuring these characters. I was worried coming into The Fire Seer that there wouldn’t be any closure with the relationship in the novel, and I’m happy to report that this was not the case. Of course, this does not mean that everything has been resolved. The author has left many avenues to explore in both the relationship of Taya and Mandir as well as the world that she has set her story in.
The concept of the Coalition is also another element that I found interesting in The Fire Seer. This body of magic users seems somewhat sinister when readers start to learn exactly what Taya and Mandir will have to do when they finally discover the jackal. There’s no trial or learning the motives of the offender, justice is swift and brutal/deadly. I’m very curious to see how this plays out as I think both Taya and Mandir are starting to question the organization that has governed their lives.
While I didn’t think The Fire Seer was a perfect novel; I was not a fan of seeing unlikely terms being bandied about (not sure that “weird” is a world that would have been used in an ancient civilization). I do think there was a lot of potential to explore a very rich world. I’m curious as to see whether the relationship between the hero and heroine can be sustained when they are no longer isolated by their investigation and I’m looking forward to seeing how they both deal with the brutal dictates that govern their jobs.
*For a different opinion, check out Stacey’s review.
If you like the partnership aspect to The Fire Seer, Moria J. Moore’s Hero series is a great choice. While Lee and Taro don’t have the history that Taya and Mandir do, the dynamic is rather similar. I also found the set up of the world to be kind of similar as Lee and Taro both have to work together because of their unique abilities, just as Mandir and Taya do. Start with book one, Resenting the Hero.
For a series that also looks at reforming a less-than-admirable hero, Jennifer Roberson’s Tiger and Del series is a must. When this series starts, Tiger is a horrifying character, but as this series develops readers realize that there’s so much more to this character and they also get to see how his attitude towards Del and women in general changes; it’s such an authentic transformation. Start with book one, Sword-Dancer.
Lastly, The Fire Seer also reminded me of one of my favourite steampunk books, Clockwork Heart and not just because the heroine has the same name. The light mystery element and the plot of The Fire Seer immediately brought this one to mind, so of course, I had to recommend it.