I visited my brother in Baltimore this weekend. In case you don’t know, I am from Tucson, Arizona, so Baltimore was a bit of a cultural and environmental shock. I was surprised that in Maryland, they have washes with water in them all the time. They call them rivers. Crazy. Anyways, while flying out to and back from Baltimore, I was able to read several books. The first of those two books was Duel of Fire by Jordan Rivet. I found Jordan and her books as I was searching for new and upcoming writers like myself. I had reached out to Jordan to see if we could maybe do a review swap. That ended up not happening, but Jordan is from Arizona and, so after reading the synopsis behind her book and the reviews of her previous works, I decided to read her book anyways. I am glad I did.
Duel of Fire is not your typical, quest or voyage and return fantasy. It takes place entirely in the kingdom and city of Vertigon, which is situated among three tall mountain peaks and connected by a series of bridges. The story begins with a young duelist (fencing athlete) named Dara. Dara is aspiring to be sponsored by some noble as she climbs the athletic ladder and makes a name for herself (as well as a living) as one of the greatest female duelist, or possibly any duelist, ever. In very typical fashion, her family—who are Fireworkers—do not support her pursuits, but she doesn’t care. She is eventually approached by her coach who wants her to work with the Prince of Vertigon, fearing for the young man’s safety. A series of somewhat predictable events unfold as a plot to kill the King of a rather peaceful Vertigon unfolds and Dara learns some very deep and dark secrets about her own family.
There were a couple refreshing things about this story. Firstly, like I said before, this is not your typical hero goes on a journey fantasy. It centered around an athlete-coach relationship, which I could relate to since I am also a coach. The conflict between Dara and her family was somewhat predictable, but it was well written and left the reader empathizing with Dara. The idea of Fireworking, or Firemagic, was different and interesting, and the dynamic of the nobility as they were written in the story and the focus that was placed on dueling competitions was different as well and reminded me of many cultures in our own history, when time become some what peaceful and rather complacent. There is well written mystery surrounding the rest of the world which is intensified by the fact that Jordan only focuses on Vertigon, even though she mentions other cities and kingdoms.
So, some of the negatives. The storyline was somewhat predictable. The relationship between the protagonist and her family, the relationship between the protagonist and other characters were just very, well, predictable. It wasn’t bad. It didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the book. But there was little mystery surrounding most of the plot. There was some, and that was welcomed. I also felt like this book might have, in some places, been written for a young adult audience, even though I didn’t think it was being billed as such. Now, I understand this is a coming of age type novel, and the author did a very good job of creating the sense that this was indeed a coming of age tale.