After seeing glowing reviews at The Little Red Reviewer, Lynn’s Book Blog, and Just Book Reading, I knew I had to read The Black Fire Concerto. I’m on a book-buying hiatus until the government shutdown ends and I have a regular paycheck again, but lucky for me, it is available through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. It’s the first time I’ve used that particular feature of Amazon Prime. Mike Allen, you have taken my Kindle-book-borrowing virginity. Yay!
Every evening, twelve-year-old Erzelle is called to play her harp aboard a riverboat named the Red Empress. Like Scheherazade, this means that she can live another day. You see, the boat is kept by the Family, who lure unsuspecting diners aboard their ship to feast on ghoul meat, which is said to grant extended life. Once aboard, the poor unfortunates are bitten by ghouls, turned, and served up as dinner themselves. When they decide that Erzelle isn’t worth her keep, then she too will become dinner.
That all changes when Olyssa, a kickass woman with a magic pipe, shows up one night for dinner. She springs Erzelle from her predicament, and the two embark on a voyage to find Olyssa’s long-lost sister. While doing so, Erzelle learns about the origins of the magical apocalypse that caused the Storms, the ghouls, and the end of normal life.
The magical apocalypse envisioned in The Black Fire Concerto is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Magic is real, but humans only learned to tap the darkness a few decades ago. The results were catastrophic, and led to the dystopian society that presently exists.
One of the things that impressed me the most was the way that the author was able to depict the way that magic affects its users. This was especially evident as Erzelle learns how to use it and is gripped by the rage and the temptation to unleash too much power. Heroes and villains alike are shaped by the magic that they use, and every action has a consequence, regardless of intention.
Mike Allen’s imagery is incredible. He creates great machines fueled by rotting corpses, the friendly fox-like Vulpines, and villains that will give you nightmares and make you feel sympathetic at the same time. A blend of fantasy and horror, The Black Fire Concerto will leave you begging for more.
Verdict: Buy this. Immediately.