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Book Review: The Girl Born of Smoke
As a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels, I have had the good fortune of meeting many other high quality writers whose only deficit is a lack of notoriety. To help them overcome that challenge, I have decided to post reviews of the best work I have read. This review concerns Jessica Billings' book The Girl Born of Smoke.
The Girl Born of Smoke by Jessica Billings
Copyright 2010 by Jessica Billings.
Excerpts used with permission by the author.
Right from the very beginning, we have a sense that there is something different about this girl Aurora, who is beating a hasty retreat from her home town of Delobo, with no sense at that point of where she is going.
As if by fate, Aurora connects with an odd couple - Kirian and Roxanne - who seem to revel mostly in their differences, who just happen to be sojourning in Aurora's former neighborhood. Soon, they are prepared to bring her to their home, far away in the town of Kain, along the shore, and help her establish a new life.
When she settles into her new home in Kain, with Roxanne and Kirian serving as foster parents of sorts, she connects with some interesting people, the most significant of whom is Djerr, someone who will join her in the Citizen's Army, which has been locked in battle with the Wizard's Army. The Wizard's Army is not, at this stage, composed of Wizards, but rather by people who await the arrival of the new wizard, with the intention of serving that wizard, whose destiny is to bring peace and order to a beleaguered, war-torn land. Little do the faithful realize that the wizard they seek is in their midst!
Aurora learns of the history of the conflict from Djerr one day when Djerr is showing her around Kain. The following is an excerpt from the book describing the scene:
Djerr spoke from behind Aurora, "This used to be the Academy of Magic."
"Remember when I mentioned that war that’s going on?"
Aurora nodded and continued to stare at the old building, unable to take her eyes away.
"Well, do you want to know more about that?" He waited for her to nod again. "See, back in the days of magic, there were wizards and non-wizards. A long time ago, there was peace between them. Wizards helped heal the people, stop droughts, and all sorts of stuff. They wandered all over the place, going from town to town, seeing what they could do to help. However, some wizards weren't happy with that way of life. Around 75 years ago, one wizard set up a school for young wizards to practice their skills and share ideas. That's this place, here. It turns out, a lot of wizards liked the idea. They wanted a place to call home and the people were becoming too reliant on them, demanding and expecting. The wizards that continued to wander the land were met with outrage, instead of respect. It used to be a great honor and celebration when parents discovered their child was blessed with magic. When a passing wizard came by, they would take the child on as their apprentice. Instead, the young wizards were often disowned by their family. The Academy of Magic was soon full of children, outcasts of the world.
"With this huge rift between wizards and non-wizards, it was no big surprise when a war started. The people mobbed the academy, demanding the wizards stop the terrible drought ravaging the land at the time. People were starving and dying in unbelievable numbers. True, the wizards could have easily stopped the deaths, but these were the people who cast them out of society. When they refused, the war broke out. The people attacked and killed several wizards, including the founder of the academy, before they were stopped. Vowing revenge, the wizards fought back. Entire cities were massacred. Gangs of wizards roamed the land, bringing death and destruction. The people were forced into suppression during what became known as the Wizard’s Reign. The wizards were cruel and many more people died, even after the drought ended.
"But, their choice to split themselves up turned out to be a fatal mistake. Overconfident in their power, they didn’t realize that without each other, their powers were weak. Practically invincible together, the wizards were horribly vulnerable when separated. When the citizens eventually rebelled against the wizards, the wizards were slaughtered, one by one. The wizards tried to rejoin each other, but it was too late. Too few remained to fight back against the hordes of angry people. Facing certain death, the small group of wizards made one last stand. Regrouping at their old academy of magic, here, they cast one final spell before they were killed and the academy destroyed..."
Billings writes a crafty tale that will surprise readers with many twists and turns. Aurora is a strong enough character to withstand some rather dark aspects of her personality that make her more real, more human, than most protagonists.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Girl Born of Smoke. It is available on Amazon.com, with a link in the Amazon ad at the bottom. Five stars!