Call of Fire: Searching for friends in the shadow of Mount Rainier

Reposting to include Marion’s new review.

Call of Fire by Beth Cato fantasy book reviewsCall of Fire by Beth Cato fantasy book reviewsCall of Fire by Beth Cato

Call of Fire (2017) continues the adventures of Ingrid Carmichael, introduced in Breath of Earth as a secretary at a geomancy school with tremendous hidden powers and who, in this second BLOOD OF EARTH novel, is on the run from an ambitious ambassador with deadly secrets. This time, Beth Cato takes Ingrid, Lee Fong, Cy Jennings, and the brilliant engineer Mr. Fenris up the Pacific Northwest coastline to Portland and Seattle, where the Japanese influence of the United Pacific conglomeration is inescapable.

Ambassador Blum, a mysterious woman who can change her physical form and practices a dark form of reiki, desperately wants to get her hands on Ingrid, which forebodes all kinds of suffering, much like what her father was revealed to have been subject to in Breath of Earth. And since seismic activity is triggered when Ingrid experiences pain, with a correlation between the strength of the tremors and the intensity of the pain, she’d rather stay away from such sensations, thank you very much. When Fenris and Lee are kidnapped in Portland, along with Fenris’ prized airship, another UP ambassador makes himself known: Teddy Roosevelt grants Ingrid and Cy safe passage to Seattle on his own craft, hinting that certain luxuries and protections could be granted to Ingrid should she choose to side with his personal motivations and, nominally, America’s interests.

Meanwhile, Ingrid’s beloved guardian Mr. Sakaguchi is missing, having been taken hostage by Lee’s uncle; there are all kinds of riots and hate crimes being committed by white Americans against Chinese in seemingly every city along the West Coast; Ingrid is hot on the trail of hints and revelations about her father’s past, previously unknown to her; Lee’s true identity and heritage come into play; Cato scratches the surface of Cy’s past and difficult relationship with his family while deepening the attachment between Ingrid and Cy; there’s the ongoing war between the United Pacific and its enemies, including an insurrection in India and the Japanese encroachment into China; and quite a few new kinds of “fantastic” make appearances, including a qi’lin and a swarm of sylphs. If that all sounds like a lot, it is — some of it ends up feeling extraneous or remarkably coincidental, and some of it isn’t given enough page time to support its importance to Call of Fire.

Cato’s research into early-twentieth-century PNW towns and history, Japanese language and culture, and mythical creatures, does pay off. The mud-strewn streets of Portland and Seattle feel fully lived-in, the sudden gold-rush fever which sweeps region carries realistic consequences not only for Ingrid’s little band but for international relations, and details like Japanese architecture and speech are authentic. (There’s little to no translation of phrases like “domo arigato” or “ohayou gozaimasu,” but there’s enough context for readers to pick up on the meaning, and it’s nothing that a quick Internet search can’t clarify.) Her own inventions like geomancy, kermanite, and the inclusion of thunderbirds and other giant magical beasts add richness to the story, as well.

Certain aspects of Call of Fire fall a little flat, though. Nothing major, but it’s in the small details: a few anachronistic terms and attitudes, a touch too much narrative meandering, a lack of character focus. The novel barely spans the passage of a week, and yet it somehow feels simultaneously too rushed and too contemplative, and spends quite a lot of time caught up in Ingrid’s thought process as she takes strides toward being more actively in control of her life and exploring the limits of her powers. She’s fascinating, but I wanted other characters to be given similar opportunities for growth and development. Teddy Roosevelt was, by all historical accounts, a force of nature, and Cato does a great job of exploring his complex and sometimes contradictory behavior in a fictional setting. I wish he’d been featured more heavily, but I also wish the same about Lee and Fenris, particularly because the short amount of time Ingrid spends with those two is overshadowed by the amount of time she and Cy spend together.

The last few chapters of Call of Fire are spectacularly dramatic, setting up what I hope will be another high-stakes adventure in the vein of Breath of Earth. Surprising revelations about Ingrid’s lineage and personal history have the potential to provide an entire novel’s worth of personal drama and character development, and the political turmoil could threaten the entire world should it reach a boiling point. I definitely want to see where Ingrid’s story takes her, and what role she has yet to play in all of this.Blood of Earth (3 Book Series) by Beth Cato

~Jana Nyman


Call of Fire by Beth Cato fantasy book reviewsHaving confronted her villain father and faced the giant two-headed snake that inhabits the San Andreas fault, geomancer Ingrid Carmichael and her friends Cypress, Lee and Mr. Fenris are now on the run — or on the fly, heading their airship to Seattle in search of allies and answers. Behind Ingrid is the army and a powerful dangerous being called Ambassador Blum, whose magic may rival Ingrid’s own. Ingrid doesn’t know much about her own magic, and part of the quest to Seattle is to uncover what she can about her heritage.

2017’s Call of Fire picks up nearly immediately after the first book, Breath of Earth, ended. On their way to Seattle, Ingrid and her friends are caught up in the Klondike gold rush although it has a different name here. The rush into the territory of Alaska puts airships at risk and while Cy and Ingrid are earthbound, their airship the Palmetto Bug is hijacked with Lee and Fenris aboard.

In spite of the various risks our heroes face, the pace of this book was leisurely, sometimes a bit too much so. Certainly, part of the story’s purpose is to broaden even more the view of the elaborate alternate world Cato has created. Anti-Chinese sentiment has flooded Seattle, just like San Francisco, and all the people who live in the city’s Chinatown are at risk. Ingrid’s mentor and foster father Mr. Sakaguchi assured her that the Ambassador Theodore Roosevelt (there are twelve ambassadors, more powerful than presidents or prime ministers) would help them. When they meet him, his help seems limited — and self-serving. And Ingrid can’t shake the ever more powerful Ambassador Blum, who acts like she and Ingrid have a magical connection.

In Seattle, Ingrid uncovers more news about her father, and frankly, most of it is bad. One breadcrumb, though, leads to an important clue about her ancestry — in Hawaii. Cy also uncovers some family news, and most of it is bad too. In one case, something that should be good news is catastrophic to his pacifist sensibilities.

The story continues to be interesting but Call of Fire’s pacing is a drawback. Many of the events from the first book — such as the attack on the city’s geomancers — are echoed here. I never got a visual sense of Seattle to the same degree that I did San Francisco, and most disappointingly, while Ingrid communes with the elemental that lives in Mount Rainier, we never experience it. We never see the angry supernatural thunderbird that attacks an airship either, although Ingrid does commune with it before it’s killed. These felt like missed opportunities, a disappointment after the great visuals of the magical creatures in the first book.

Still, there is suspense enough. While Ingrid is successful in the short run, she has the rug pulled out from under her in a big way at the end. Serious questions remain. Can our heroes stop the global slaughter of Chinese people? Will Ingrid be able to embrace her power and be free? I’m committed to reading the third book, Roar of Sky, to find out.

~Marion Deeds

Published August 15, 2017. A resourceful young heroine must protect the world from her enemies—and her own power—in this thrilling sequel to the acclaimed Breath of Earth, an imaginative blend of alternative history, fantasy, science, magic, and adventure. When an earthquake devastates San Francisco in an alternate 1906, the influx of geomantic energy nearly consumes Ingrid Carmichael. Bruised but alive, the young geomancer flees the city with her friends, Cy, Lee, and Fenris. She is desperate to escape Ambassador Blum, the cunning and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific—the confederation of the United States and Japan—achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father—the man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco. When Lee and Fenris are kidnapped in Portland, Ingrid and Cy are forced to ally themselves with another ambassador from the Unified Pacific: the powerful and mysterious Theodore Roosevelt. But even TR’s influence may not be enough to save them when they reach Seattle, where the magnificent peak of Mount Rainier looms. Discovering more about herself and her abilities, Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to light the long-dormant volcano . . . and a war that will sweep the world.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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