Kritzer, Naomi (2002, 2002). Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm. New York: Bantam Spectra.

Reviewed 19 January 2002

Kritzer, Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm (covers)

Disclosure of Interest: As noted on page vii of the Acknowledgements in both volumes, I read and commented upon drafts of these works (then planned as a single volume) before their acceptance for publication. My review of the earlier draft would have been quite similar.

This first novel—although the publisher divided it into two volumes, it is a single novel that has been divided solely for publishing convenience—stands many of the clichés of contemporary commercial fantasy on their respective heads. If, of course, some of those brainless clichés can be said to have heads. In no particular order, these include:

This last point requires amplification, because it underscores a major, oft-fatal failing in contemporary commercial fiction (not just fantasy). Eliana, the protaganist, is a teenage girl and student (in, unusually for a fantasy novel, a plausible and well-described conservatory). She loves her new roommate, Mira. Really loves, and it is returned; it's not just lust. The key to her character, though, is that Eliana does have objectives in life other than those created by raging teenage hormones. She never forgets Mira; she makes mistakes on account of her feelings for Mira; but she never allows them to undermine the rebellion that she ends up leading because she is willing to listen to others.

Instead, the real theme is the distinction between faith and religion. Without stooping to obvious historical examples, Kritzer demonstrates that the underlying faith of an organized religion matters far, far less than the venality of the religious hierarchy. Torture and the Inquisition inhabit both sides. Political opportunism inhabits both sides. While neither side has a monopoly on either virtue or vice, the importance of this theme looms in the background without lecturing or use of an author's avatar.

These elements would have made for a readable novel by themselves. Kritzer's integration of plot and character with the theme and environment make it much more than that. Eliana is neither an arrogant superhero nor arrogant in false meekness, and is surrounded by other believable characters. Although aspects of the denouement seem like the end of Great Expectations, those aspects are believable in Kritzer's characters (unlike Dickens' overblown unedited monstrosity), and almost inevitible based on the characters themselves, not just exigencies of plot. Although the plot revolves around a successful revolution, it is not a revolution involving certain victory over a faceless enemy.

The complexity and counterpoint in this novel make it of significant value. That the counterpoint plays back against the dance and music that infuse the character of the novel merely demonstrates that this novel is a successful whole that is determined by, but more than, the sum of its parts.

Overall rating: 4 stars
Kritzer's novel demonstrates a nice balance among the four elements of a good story: plot, character, environment, and theme. That the theme is much more subtle than the obvious "rural pagans good, citydwelling monotheists bad"—and not just through the reversal of roles—is both a pleasant change and a vital underpinning for the other elements of the novel. A Powell's Books Partner

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