Book Reviews

Fires of the Dead by Jed Herne

Fires of the Dead

Title: Fires of the Dead
Author: Jed Herne
Rating: ★★★★★

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Fire can’t be tamed.

Wisp is a pyromancer: a magician who draws energy from fires to make his own flames. He’s also a criminal, one job away from retirement. And it can’t come bloody soon enough.

Leading his misfit crew, Wisp ventures into a charred and barren forest to find a relic that could change the realm forever. But they aren’t the only ones on the hunt, and the forest isn’t as barren as it seems …

A jaded gang leader longing for retirement

A bloodthirsty magician with a lust for power

A brutish fighter who’s smarter than he looks

A young thief desperate to prove herself

A cowardly navigator with secrets that won’t stay buried

Together, they must survive fights, fires, and folk tales that prove disturbingly real – if they don’t kill each other first.

A dark fantasy novella with a unique magic system, perfect for Joe Abercrombie or Brandon Sanderson fans wanting a fast-paced read.

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REVIEW

I didn’t know exactly what to expect going into this novella. Especially since, I’m generally not to keen on reading them (I get too emotionally invested and want the stories to last longer, sorry!).

For the first 90% of the novel, I was actually getting a little flustered. Here I am really enjoying this novella and actually dreading the end. I was thinking to myself, “Now, why would he just stop and make it only a novella instead of a novel?!” The last 10% of the novel changed my mind. While I loved the plot, grew emotionally invested in the characters, and couldn’t put my Amazon Fire down, I understood why the author decided to only write a novella…this story line leads to a much thicker plot. As a reader, we have the potential now to experience more world-building, dive into the depth of how the band of characters came together, along with their own unique histories, and we can divulge in the exciting world of pyromancy.

My only suggestions would be more world-building, added history, and to build the love relationship (I didn’t find it really believable).

Fires of the Dead is a fast-paced story of pyromancy, survival, and friendship. This is the perfect read for someone looking to be quickly immersed in a magic system unlike anything else.

★★★


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jed Herne

Jed Herne is a fantasy and sci-fi author from Perth, Western Australia. His short stories have been published in The Arcanist, Scarlet Leaf Review, and more. Fires of the Dead is his debut fantasy novella.

In addition to writing, he hosts the Novel Analyst podcast. Each episode, he deconstructs a book to help you become a better writer. On his YouTube channel (Jed Herne – Write), he posts new writing advice videos every weekday.

If you prefer listening to watching, you can hear the same daily writing advice and more writing-related goodness on his other podcast, The Jed Herne Audio Experience.

Outside of writing and reading, he loves board games, indoor soccer, and talking about himself in third person.

To stay updated with his writing, learn more about him, and to read a bunch of his free fantasy & sci-fi stories, join his email newsletter at:

https://jedherne.com/club/

 

Connect with him – he loves hearing from you!

Website: JedHerne.com
Twitter: @JedHerne
Facebook: facebook.com/jedhernewriter/
YouTube: Jed Herne – Writer
The Novel Analyst Podcast: 
novelanalyst.com (or just search on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc.)
The Jed Herne Audio Experience: anchor.fm/jedherne (or just search on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc.)

Email: jed.herne1@gmail.com

Email is the single best way to contact him. He reads and responds to every email from his wonderful readers, because he loves us!

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Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for the book?
A: With some stories, I can’t recall where I got the initial idea. After all, ideas are cheap. 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and all that.

But with Fires of the Dead, I remember it perfectly.

I was in Japan with a friend, visiting another mutual friend who’d lived there for eighteen months (which was great, because we got free accommodation at his tiny Tokyo apartment – and he knew the best food places!).

One day, we walked through a graveyard. Not a famous shrine or a big tourist attraction, but a small collection of markers and buildings, opposite a school and with one of Tokyo’s many vending machines out the front. Coming from Australia, I found it fascinating to learn about their belief system. How people respond to death tells us a lot about cultures, and ourselves.

As we walked through this graveyard, I looked at the family shrines. Some were big, some were small, some were clean, and some were decrepit. I wondered: what if paying respect to your ancestors wasn’t a one-way action? What if they talked back?

By no means is this an original idea. And so after writing concepts in my notebook, it stewed in my head. Several months passed.

Then, I started thinking about magic. I love unique magic systems, and I was brainstorming some of my own. There was this one idea I created, called Pyromancy (Pyro = fire, mancy = magic*). How this magic worked was simple: people would bond themselves to a fire, and could then draw energy from the flames to project their own fires. Simple rules, but a lot of different applications.

(*Okay, technically ‘-mancy’ means ‘divination’, but it’s often associated with magic, so that’s close enough for me. Plus, it sounds cool.)

I chatted with my friend (over table tennis) about this idea. We spitballed a dozen permutations of this concept, and I went away with a better idea of how this thing worked.

But there was still a missing piece. Who would maintain these great fires? Sure, a Pyromancer could build a huge bonfire and get really powerful, but they’d have to always take care of it.
Then I remembered those shrines in Tokyo. What if the shrines weren’t just a memorial, but a furnace? What if each Pyromancer family built a communal fire, and then each dead ancestor lived in the flames? Powerful families would have raging bonfires, filled with hundreds of minds. Weak families might only have a furnace in the basement. Building your fire would increase your family’s power.

And, like in any good fantasy world, people would only want more power …

Mashing these ideas together resulted in Fires of the Dead.

There’s a ton of other inspirations, of course, but wanting to explore Pyromancy kindled my initial curiosity. Interestingly enough, I feel like the story became way more character-focused than I expected, which has been to its benefit. I often seem to do this. Unique magic systems and cool world building draws me in, but it’s the characters that make me stay. Hopefully, they’ll do the same for you!

Q: What did this book teach you about writing?
A: 
Before this book, I tended to write stories from one or two point of views. That let me develop deep, complex main characters, but also reduced my scope to explore other perspectives on my story. With this book, I flipped the script. It’s got multiple narrators, all (I hope) equally well-developed. 

Partly, this was to increase suspense. If you have several fleshed-out characters, killing one makes more impact – compared to killing a poorly-developed secondary character. My main motivation, though, was to challenge myself. I love trying something different in every new project, and playing with these multiple point of views was something I’d wanted to try since reading The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie – in my opinion, this is the finest use of multiple narrators I’ve seen (I did a podcast analyzing this if you want to learn more).

Another big lesson was the importance of voice. I think I found a nice dry, witty, and somewhat gritty tone that suited this story. In particularly, I was happy with how different each narrator’s voice is – so critical for keeping the cast straight!

Q: Did Fires of the Dead have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?
A: 
Yes! I love listening to instrumental music with fantasy vibes (think of pulse-pounding trailer music – mainly Two Steps from Hell, Audiomachine, and Antti Martikainen). It helps capture the kind of epic fantasy vibes I want to express in my stories, and it’s my hope that listening to gr music infuses some of that spirit in my writing. 

If you want a taste, I’ve made a companion soundtrack for the book on Spotify. Most of them are songs I listened to while writing. Some of them are included because they’re just awesome. And all of them will make great background tunes for when you read the book …
Q: What do you hope people remember about it?
A: Probably the same things every author hopes their readers’ think: that it was good, and that it won’t be my last book they read!

From the outset, I wanted Fires of the Dead to be a page-turning read. Something you could burn through (pun intended) in one or two sittings. Since this is my debut book, I wanted it to be a kind of business card – a short, punchy, and gripping sample to show readers what I can craft as an author.

With that in mind, there were several things I’d love for readers to mull over after they close the final pages. Of those, the structure is the most noticeable element. I won’t get into details for fear of spoilers, but I did something structurally that feeds into the suspense and increases the stakes and grit. One early reviewer mentioned that it was “so unlike anything I’ve seen in a book and gave me spine tingling slasher flick vibes”, which is an amazing, humbling compliment.

On a subtler note, I’d love for readers to remember the diversity of characters. Usually, my novels are from the point of view of one or two characters. With Fires of the Dead, I’ve got significantly more. That was a fun challenge, especially given that the book is three-quarters shorter than a standard novel. At risk of over-quoting from the same source, the same reviewer who made that earlier comment mentioned that:

“I found it fascinating how the diverse range of characters gave such different interpretations of the same world, and how cleverly their personalities were fleshed out in such a short time”.

I can’t really ask for much more than that!

 


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