Fires of Belinus by William H. Russeth
Reviewed by Christopher Hoare
There is a lot to like about
this novel and plenty of atmosphere to submerge oneself in, but it is not an easy story to get into. I believe I had read
a hundred pages before I felt involved with the characters – there were so many of them. The last half of the novel
is the best, and that part earns it the three roses.
While the characters eventually
grow on the reader the lack of a clear protagonist and a clear antagonist leave the reader with little direction to follow
until halfway into the story. At that point there are several characters the reader has come to care about, but I’ll
not identify them and let the reader’s own perceptions build the thread of narrative from the tumultuous story that
seems to span half the Celtic world. That world is well drawn – in fact the nearest appropriate simile suggests the
plot has all the elegance and order of a brawl in an Irish pub. Fights erupt at the turn of a page, and perhaps a few of them
seem gratuitous in the way they dilute the tension from the really heroic struggles that take place on the way to the novel’s
I really love the title and
the great cover illustration. The concept is a good one, and I hope the author will accept some good natured criticism and
present the public with a faster paced sequel.
The fight scenes at the start
are weighed down with too much detail, so that the eye must scan the page searching for the active verbs to attain a fight’s
proper pace. I often found myself skimming past unneeded detail and repetitions
to avoid bogging down in the mundane and losing sight of the heroic. In retrospect I find the way some characters switched
from antagonist to protagonist an interesting way to tell story, but the converse, following a character as a hero only to
find he was too self doubting and timid leaves the reader wondering whether his read is actually going nowhere.
Whose story is it? Well,
one character who we follow at the start is still with us at the end, and he’s performed brave deeds, but he’s
never become a leader and his feats pale besides those of others. A similar situation happens with the antagonists, where
three or four individuals exchange the role at intervals. I don’t have anything against an ‘everyman’s’
story but this bygone age demands more mythic heroes. I would have to say that
the sword forged out of the iron meteorite is the one element that holds the tale together, but its destiny is only hinted
at as a tale to be told by other legends and another race.
While Mr. Russeth has presented
a very detailed picture of ancient Gaul the
novel is a slow read, primarily because he has failed to focus the reader’s attention at the start on the great problem
that has to be overcome. More than half way through I still did not know where we were supposed to be going. He would have
gripped the reader’s mind and generated more enthusiasm by sticking to a tighter plot that did justice to the great
odds that the cast must overcome to get to a resolution – and a better resolution than an ending situation for our characters
little changed in essence from the starting point.