Our group of heroes (Renie, Xabbu, Orlando, Fredericks, Martine, Tb4, Kwan-Le) have entered Otherland and are searching for Paul Jonas at Mr. Sellar’s request. They hope to discover what the Grail Brotherhood is up to and why some kids (including Renie’s little brother Stephen, and online pals Orlando and Fredericks) are in comas. What is the Grail Brotherhood’s plans for these kids?
But soon the heroes are accidentally separated into two groups and they are struggling just to stay alive as they travel through different domains in Otherland, including one that has giant insects (created by an entomologist), one that is a two-dimensional cartoon in a kitchen setting where the vegetables are at war, and one that is a deranged version of The Wizard of Oz.
What our heroes don’t know is that one of their companions (and we don’t yet know which one) is actually the sim of Dread, the serial killer. As they travel together, they start to gradually understand Otherland and each other. For example, we hear Martine’s story about how her parents sold her to researchers doing a sensory deprivation experiment (this turns out to be important later). Not all of our heroes will survive.
Meanwhile, Paul Jonas is hanging out with Neanderthals who speak English but aren’t quite dubbed correctly, so he knows he’s in a simulation. When he walks into the War of the Worlds set and then The Odyssey, he recognizes them as sims, too. He’s starting to recall a bit about who he was in RL (Real Life) and he’s still seeing visions of a young woman who is beckoning him to find her in Otherland.
Meanwhile, back in RL, Orlando’s body is dying and his parents begin to realize that something strange is going on. They hire Ramsey, a lawyer who connects them with Fredericks’ parents. Ramsey also discovers Olga, a woman who plays Uncle Jingle in the online children’s program. Olga has recently become suspicious about the children in comas. Then there’s the cop who is still trying to solve the murder of one of Dread’s recent victims. And Christabel is still sneaking around and obeying the orders of Mr. Sellars, but then she gets caught.
In my review of City of Golden Shadow, I mentioned that my one complaint was how long and slow the story was. This problem is greatly magnified in River of Blue Fire. The story itself is fascinating and complex — it’s wonderfully inventive science fiction. But this installment gets bogged down with too much travelling and too many scenes that are not crucial to the overall plot. It’s a long surreal journey through a multitude of bizarre worlds with only occasional tidbits of important information doled out. It’s a lot like the mid to late books in Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME or Taylor Anderson’s DESTROYERMEN (but better written than both of those series).
Readers who love to enjoy the journey and want it to last as long as possible will probably be fine with this. Unfortunately, I am not so patient. But I really like the concept here, I’m invested in these characters, and I’m desperate to know how it will end, so I will eagerly read the next volume (Mountain of Black Glass) and hope it gets somewhere faster than River of Blue Fire did.
Again, Penguin Audio’s version is excellent. George Newbern, the narrator, is fabulous. I will excuse him for mispronouncing forecastle — those nautical terms that don’t sound like they look are so weird! The audiobook for River of Blue Fire is 24 hours long.