The Fire Mages by Pauline M Ross is an imaginative fantasy novel which tells the story of Kyra, a young village girl with an ambition to become a scribe and have the ability to write spellpages – and leave her boring village behind. She meets interesting and mysterious characters, learns about magic, and travels far and wide as she learns more about magic, the politics of her home country, and herself.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Fire Mages and found it difficult to put down. It is a compelling story written with a strong narrative voice. The characters are well rounded, interesting and individual. The plot is exciting, with unexpected twists and turns.
One aspect which readers who are new to fantasy might struggle with is the large number of new and substituted words used in the book. In some cases I think these might have been unnecessary, such as using the word “board” for a meal, but others, like using “sun” to mean day and “moon” to mean month, combined with mentions of sun and moon deities, give the world depth. The new and substituted words are used with a strong context on their first use, and introduced gradually such that it is easy to pick up the meaning. Invented words like Kellon (a lord), Kellonor (a lord’s first heir) and Bai-Kellonor (a lord’s second heir) also give insight into the social framework of the world, and the rules Ross has used to create these and other words are clear and consistent, aiding understanding.
The use of language in this way brings to life the rich fantasy world in which the story is set. It is clear that Ross put a lot of thought into her world, and as a result it is so much more interesting and complex than a lot of fantasy worlds.
Towards the end I felt that some of the characters didn’t seem to take the situation as seriously as they should have, and this undermined the climax. One decision the protagonist, Kyra, makes after the climax seems odd, even unbelievable, in the context of what has happened.
Overall, though, I found the plot well structured, with little subplots that popped up here and these adding depth to the story and characters and providing foundations on which later plot points were built.
I rate The Fire Mages 8/10. It is a well written, solid story, with a rich cast of characters set in a well-developed original fantasy world. What holds it back is slight over-use of invented vocabulary and the undermined climax.