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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Galefire by Kenny Soward (reviewed by Charles T. Phipps)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kenny Soward grew up in Crescent Park, Kentucky, a small suburb just south of Cincinnati, Ohio, listening to hard rock and playing outdoors. In those quiet 1970's streets, he jumped bikes, played Nerf football, and acquired many a childhood scar. He is the author of the GnomeSaga series and Galefire.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Lonnie is just your average runner for the infamous Eighth Street Gang when he gets an urgent phone call to back up his crew after trouble follows them home from a drug deal gone bad.

During the ensuing firefight, Lonnie sees some things he wishes he hadn’t, including the gang’s leader, Selix, channeling her powers from a place called the Fade by getting high…and dancing. Memories begin unraveling inside Lonnie’s darkened mind. Memories of dragons and fiends and fire-swept otherworlds. Memories Selix controls with a simple touch.

But what is real and what is not? In the strange and violent world of Galefire, Lonnie comes to realize not everything is as it seems, including his own identity. But will Lonnie and Selix reconcile the past before they are caught by those who seek to drag them home in chains?

FORMAT/INFO: Galefire is a 1st person urban fantasy novel and 312 pages long. It is the first volume in the series. The book was released on December 8th, 2015.

ANALYSIS: I admit, I didn't know what to expect when I picked up my copy of Kenny Soward's Galefire. My previous experience with his work in GnomeSaga gave me the impression he was an author of light enjoyable fantasy so I was very surprised by the fact Galefire turned out to be a gritty hard-edged urban fantasy novel about a man trapped in a cycle of addiction.

Lonnie is a drug addict, there's no way around it and he's not a functional one either. His entire life revolves around the taking, acquisition, and acquiring of drugs. He's lost his wife and child due to his addiction and is more or less enslaved to the 8th Street Gang. How drugged up is Lonnie? Well, he hasn't noticed the fact the 8th Street Gang is composed of vampires and Fair Folk.

Or, more precisely, he doesn't care.

Lonnie is the definition of an unreliable narrator, though, as the reader quickly starts to realize what he thinks is going isn't remotely the case. For one, the 8th Street Gang doesn't treat him the way they would any normal junkie in their service and actively close ranks around him whenever he's in trouble.

Indeed, Lonnie is probably the more toxic person in their relationship as he focuses entirely on his lost family while unwittingly getting the gang repeatedly into dangerous situations. What's really going on is a good mystery and one which finally leads to some interesting revelations toward the end.

I like how Kenny Soward didn't really try to make Lonnie sympathetic. A large part of the appeal is the slow realization he's a self-absorbed psychopath who used to be someone great. His user qualities make him a unique protagonist and subtly parody how every hero of urban fantasy tends to be a brooding antihero whose past loves justify whatever his current goal is.

The reader's sympathies start with the narrator but gradually move to the gang and I like that a great deal. I particularly liked the British vampire twins and consider them a sexy/fun addition to a book which threatened to get a little too dark to be enjoyable. Seelix, Lonnie's boss/lieutenant/love interest, is meant to be mysterious and otherworldly but comes across as a bit needy. Much of the book is set up for the planned sequels but I'm very interested in where it ended up.

CONCLUSION: Galefire is an excellent darker-than-normal urban fantasy novel. It's a nice change of pace from Kenny Soward's other works and shows he's capable of much more than just steampunk fantasy. I would have actually preferred the book to focus more on Lonnie's addictions and relationships with his gang versus the overarching plot of the 8th Street Gang versus their enemies but I was still intrigued by events. This is a book I recommend to those who like a little grit with their fantasy.


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