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|Crown of Fire
by Kathy Tyers
Published by Bethany House, 2000
Recommended by: Greg Slade
Since I had already read Firebird and Fusion Fire, the first two books in the series, I was pretty keen to lay my hands on this one. In fact, I was out of the country when it was published, and when I did check in with Chapters, most of their stores in town were out of stock, and I went on a mad dash across town to snap up the last copy they had. In fact, Amazon.com tells me that the book is already out of print, which I find somewhat of a disappointment. (They're still selling the first two books. Personally, I find it infuriating to start a series, only to find out that the final book has been snatched away from me.) However, besides my desire to finish the series, there was also some curiosity, and a little trepidation, because Tyers has revealed that her original plan for the series was to have the story arc run over five books, not three. It was the publisher who decided that only trilogies sell. So I wondered if this book would have a sense of being "rushed", of having too many plot developments crammed into too few pages, to the detriment of characterisation.
I don't know why I worried. I should know Tyers better than that by now. This book is a fitting climax to the story, and the action never felt rushed. The viewpoint jumps from character to character, so that, at the climax, you experience several "battles" in parallel, and Tyers handles this writing convention as well as many and better than some. The internal conflict within Firebird and a couple of the other characters is handled even better. There are several redemptive moments, and they are all believable in the context of each character's... well, character. In particular, Firebird's struggle is with her pride. All her life, she had been taught to see pride, not just a a virtue, but almost as a god. When she has spent her whole life trying to prove herself worthy, at the moment when she is finally acclaimed by her world, the greatest danger to her comes from own pride.
But probably the most interesting element of the books is the parallel to the Christian faith. In Firebird's universe, far from being commanded to spread the "gospel", believers are forbidden even to talk about it unless they are first asked. There is a dramatic contrast between the experience of many Christians, who know that they should be sharing the gospel with others, but are afraid to, and that of the believers in the Whorl, who want desperately to share with their friends, but are not allowed to do so.
I should probably say that Tyers did succumb, early in the series, to a temptation common among science fiction writers, namely that of calling familiar technology by unusual names, to give the sense of another world. Sometimes, such name changing helps to establish the setting, but most of the time, it detracts from it. For me at least, the changed names did not work in this case, but of course once she started calling an item by a certain name, she had to stick with it.
Nevertheless, I did enjoy the series, and look forward to more from Tyers. If you are looking for some space opera with theological depth to it, look for this series, but don't waste any time, because there's no guarantee that the publisher will re-release this title. (January, 2003)
The final volume of the Firebird trilogy, Crown of Fire brings the adventures of our heroine and her husband to a grand conclusion.
Having returned to Netaia to be confirmed an heiress, Firebird must find her way through a number of sticky political situations, while secretly playing a more dangerous game. She and Brennen must act as bait to trap the Shuhr. The Sentinels have a temporary edge over their ancient enemies, thanks both to new RIA technology and the powerful telepathic fusion ability which Brennen and Firebird have discovered. For the Shuhr to learn these secrets would be a catastrophe, in light of their horrific plans for the rest of humanity. The Federacy, desperate to prevent any further destruction, has given Brennen clear orders interrogate one of the Shuhr, and then use the resulting information to lead a strike force against them.
I found the first half of the book to be rather unexciting, as various factions and personalities maneuver into position and the Sentinels wait for their enemies to commit themselves. After the terrors and thrills of Fusion Fire, it was hard to get too concerned with the machinations of Netaian politicians. But the Shuhr are as ruthless and frightening as ever, and when they finally do strike, the story explodes. I can think of few other authors who regularly put women and children in such hideous danger as Tyers does in this trilogy (particularly danger that the reader truly feels) and Firebird suffers some terrible damage.
I appreciate the way Tyers depicts unmistakably evil people while showing them in context. In their own minds, they have perfectly sane and moral reasons for the things they do, and the author emphasizes how easy it would be for any of us to go down that road. She also does a good job of portraying controversial social issues without descending into polemic. For example, she imagines what a society which regularly manipulated, killed and "harvested" cloned embryos would look like, and lets her readers drawn their own conclusions. Despite the structural and entrenched nature of the Shuhr's sins, however, Tyers does not deny them grace. Terza Shirak, a Shuhr geneticist, becomes an unexpectedly sympathetic character as she begins to wonder if a different life is possible.
Firebird always struggles with pride, and many occasions for it arise in Crown of Fire. She imagines becoming a triumphant Netaian queen who brings salvation to her people. Brennen, in turn, seeks to know God's will for him in the war, and steels himself to make an awful sacrifice. Besides this spiritual growth there are some interesting theological insights, as when Firebird imagines the fulfillment of prophecies as being like "a series of mountain ranges, with nearby peaks obscuring the distant ones. Only when you arrived at the first summit could you see that the second range was still far off." (p. 241) And I think Tyers handles the overlapping human and divine causes of the final cataclysm with appropriate subtlety.
Though it takes its time in picking up speed, Crown of Fire is a fine ending to this exciting series. Elliot Hanowski
Kathy took part in an online interview in February, 2000.
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