The Fire Eye Refugee – Samuel Gately
191 pages| Self-published| Fantasy
I received a free electronic copy of this book to review at my request as part of the TBRindr programme.
The digest: The Fire Eye Refugee is an action-packed and fun novel which intertwines the reality of refugee crises and racial (in)tolerance with elements of magical fantasy to provide an intriguing story. A thoroughly engaging read featuring espionage, war, and the potential for salvation – Gately is onto a winner here!
From its Goodreads blurb:
“A spy must face her past or die in exile.
As lanterns stream up towards the Fire Eye, a woman weaves through the crowd, eyes down. Kay is a fetch, a finder of lost children, and she’s been saddled with a case she couldn’t refuse. A child is missing among the refugees beyond the walls. Before she is found, Kay will face her past as an exile, the loyalties which divide her by heart and blood, and an enemy who would have his spy back on her leash or content himself to watch her hang. A killer has returned to the city, war looms, and, above it all, the Fire Eye hangs open, watching.”
A 4/5 rating means that really enjoyed my reading experience with The Fire Eye Refugee, but I’ll start the review with some of the areas that I think could be improved to make the novel a bit more enjoyable. My main negatives for the book can be easily exemplified, but you’ll see that they aren’t serious issues at all. The main problem is the lack of consistently good character development across the wider cast of characters – whilst some have quite interesting back stories and histories with other people, some have almost nothing. Without spoiling the story, I will just say that there is a page full of swearing which is just so out of place in the novel it threw me out of the narrative for a while. This page does absolutely nothing to develop the character speaking and feels like a bit of a cheap effort to add more grit to the storyworld and one thuggish group in particular. I don’t have a problem with swearing at all be it in the real world or in fiction for comedy or effect, but this one page irked me as it is entirely anomalous in the story.
There is also a small romance element in The Fire Eye Refugee which is not very well developed and seems to jump from physical acts to some level of intimacy with no middle ground. Following an awkwardly written sex scene, the characters involved don’t really do much apart from act uncomfortable with each other. Again this was more of an odd choice from the author than a problematic one, my main gripe is that I wish Gately had explored this aspect a bit more. I understand that this wouldn’t have fit in well with the plot so I didn’t deduct any marks for this element.
Just want to point out here that I don’t have issues with violence, strong language, sex etc – but I do find myself drawn out from the narrative when they aren’t handled too well. As you can see, my criticisms are minimal and could likely not affect other readers at all, so take it with a pinch of salt!
What could be improved? Further nit-picking: the blurb was a bit misleading. The Goodreads synopsis says that The Fire Eye Refugee is an epic novel, but I think that is quite a stretch to say the least. There needs to be much more focus on the magical and political elements for me to want to lump it together with the works of Tolkien, Sanderson, and Martin. The magic is almost entirely undeveloped, and we haven’t a clue what it is capable of (we only see a handful of examples of magic and some prophetic foreboding). The world just does not, at this stage in the series, feel epic. Yes there is a fair bit going on but there’s not enough detail to make any of it feel real in the way that other, true epics, do. I am quite confident that in the sequel, The Fire Eye Chosen (released 15/01/2018), both the magical and political systems will play a more major role in the worldbuilding and offset these comments.
So then, what did I enjoy? The story was immersive for the most part – Gately’s skill with worldbuilding and character development (for the mainline characters) are on show from the first page. Even though there are not intricately weaved details to support the worldbuilding for the novel, we are presented with a not unsubstantial history of different nations and religions, as well as the social issues which arise from the collapse of societies leading to a refugee crisis. At this point in the 21st century, I think these are incredibly important topics to see covered in fiction, and Gately tackles them with finesse and honesty.
The plot is well paced, Gately ensuring that there is enough character exploration and reflection to punctuate the more action-packed episodes whilst not slowing the narrative at all. At no point did I ever yearn for either too much more dialogue between characters or more fight scenes (though the author does write these very well) – there is a nice balance between the two. The investigations Kay undertakes are always at the forefront of the novel in some form or another and act as a constant reminder of the time-sensitive nature of the story which no doubt helps the author to keep on top of what is going on and when. There is simply not enough time in the storyworld for too much dillydallying, and Gately handles this very well. Unfortunately, it also means that some characters and other plot elements are underdeveloped and suffer due to the short number of pages. This is a similar thread I see in recently published short stories (particularly eBooks), but I am usually satisfied by later instalments in a series in terms of development and exploration.
The main characters are much more than just caricatures based on one or two personality traits. Our protagonist, Kay, has a troubled history quite unlike many other leads, and at no point did I feel that Gately wrote a female lead for point scoring. Kay is a well developed and fierce woman in her own right and is not scared to let others know it. The supporting cast does suffer a little bit due to the short length of the book, but they should be more fleshed out in later instalments. Having said this, the histories between the characters continually evolve as the plot progresses in such a way as to slowly build up your knowledge of them. What I found specifically memorable is the fact that we are not being preached to in this novel – each person seems to have their own point of view and desired outcome to help their own people. Leaders on the same side of the argument can’t agree on everything, and I think that this realistic portrayal of politics was well handled if a little shallow at times. Despite this, there were times where I felt like the political systems and outcomes were potentially a bit too linear, and I’d like to see them developed in more depth in the future.
Whilst the geographical settings are rather well described and clearly delineated, it is the socio-political aspect of the world which takes the spotlight here. To avoid ruining the worldbuilding all I will say is that Gately does very well to condense broad issues and battles between countries into such a short novel whilst also providing commentary on the flight of the defeated race. The refugee camp in The Fire Eye Refugee is exactly what one would expect in the real world, and the reactions of the different social groups are likewise depicted. The experiences of the refugees feel authentic and Gately touches on the insecurity of living in such a makeshift community. Even amongst their own people, those who have fled from war are not safe, and we see glimpses of the terror that that fact brings on occasion. I hope this is further focused on in future instalments, and we may even see more espionage or outright warfare should the plot take us where I think it will.
A 4/5 rating means that I recommend The Fire Eye Refugee for those who are partial to action-packed fantasy books with at least hints of magic. It is a fun story which interacts with issues which are present in societies globally today, and if the author can continue this focus whilst working with the technical problems in his work then we may very well be about to see a great new series blossom. Whilst I disagree with the blurb about its specific comparisons and genre description, I do think that fans of Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series will enjoy this comparatively simpler story.