CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 2 . . . . September 17, 1999
Note: Reviewed from Uncorrected Advance Proof.
"So, it's you this Prophecy is talking about?"Almost inevitably, any lengthy animal fantasy, especially one written in the UK, is going to be compared/contrasted with the modern classic Watership Down, but Fire Bringer stands up well to such scrutiny and merits a highly favorable comparison. This story involving a herd of deer offers an engaging study in the extremes of good and evil. While deer, at least beyond the fawn stage, may not be as cute and cuddly as rabbits, they, nevertheless, are portrayed in a most reader friendly fashion in this first novel from writer and travel journalist Clement-Davies.
Among the Herla (the deer), there is a Prophecy that, "when the Lore is bruised and broken," their deity, Herne, will come in the form of a fawn bearing "on his brow a leaf of oaken" and he will "set the Herla free." As with any prophecy about a "savior's coming," there will always be the question: "Are conditions now right for the prophecy to come to pass?" Although the herd had always had an ultimate lead buck, his control had never been absolute; however, the present leader, Drail, or Lord Drail as he preferred to be addressed, had been assuming increasing power. To solidify his position and assume absolute authority, Drail engineered the massacre of the Outriders, the herd's guardian bucks. At the moment of the Outriders' treacherous massacre, a hind, Eloin, was giving birth to a fawn bearing the oak leaf marking on his head.. Immediately recognizing that Rannoch, as Eloin names her fawn, could be seen as a threat to Drail, she attempts to protect him by "giving" him to Bracken, a doe whose fawn had been stillborn. Later, Bracken and Rannoch, with a few other does and their fawns, escape from the herd and head for the High Land where they hope to find safety from Drail.
Much of the book's action involves Rannoch's wandering-activities-in-exile while he matures, both physically and mentally, and becomes "ready" to fulfill the promise of the words of the Prophecy. One of the book's interesting twists is that the story's initial villain, Drail, is replaced by an even more evil character, Sgorr, Drail's second in command. While Drail was an example of an able leader who became corrupted by power (and the influence of Sgorr), Sgorr is a social outcast who has viciously schemed and betrayed his way to the top position. Perhaps because, as in real life, evil sometimes appears more attractive than good, Sgorr is often a more interesting character than Rannoch, who, as a "savior," frequently seems aloof and distanced from those around him, including the reader. Fortunately, Clement-Davies surrounds Rannoch with other characters who compensate for Rannoch's bouts of remoteness. As is the custom of the genre of epic fantasy, there is a final battle in which evil initially appears to be on the verge of prevailing before it is vanquished. Perhaps the only disappointing feature of Fire Bringer is the title which has some connection to the final battle's outcome but really does not represent either the book's story content or its theme.
While Fire Bringer may be perceived by some as too long for a class read-to book, as avid readers (and listeners) know, a good book can never be long enough.
An absolute "must-buy" title.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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