Fire In The Dawn is a dark, fascinating epic fantasy from Justin Fike, the first in his Twin Skies trilogy. It blends epic fantasy with multiple sets of cultural practices and mythologies from throughout Asia, which gives the entire book an interesting pan-Asian flair.
We open with a beautiful prologue involving a human character journeying to the world of the Velynn, the sky gods and goddeses that rule over Fire In the Dawn‘s world. The character demonstrates the magic of the four elements of Fike’s world, and with his incantations and motions we get some beautiful philosophy and poetry to go with the demonstration of magic.
Fast forward to Chapter One and we meet our protagonist, Kyren, the son of the fallen Emperor who was betrayed by one of the more powerful Se’gin (read: nobility) families working below him. We see him posing as a Rai’gin (read: peasants, no last names, lowest of the low) servant with a mental disability and musing over the fate of Rana, a beautiful Daynan (also known as Nightkin, dark-skinned remnants of another tribe that once populated the region and now has few remaining survivors) woman he has a massive crush on but cannot approach due to the aforementioned disguise.
Later in the story we discover that one of the families that had betrayed his father wants to ascend to the role of regional governor/representation in the Council of Five, the ruling body under the now Shogin, formerly emperor.
The author’s depictions of how these announcements fall out and how politics work within the world are stunning, as are his depictions of the minor characters I can’t talk about too much without spoiling future chapters.
I definitely got the sense of a fully developed world and the author’s confidence moving within it. Even the line-level writing is original and compelling, and I particularly enjoyed the little snippets of poetry, history, prose, and philosophy that head each chapter and hint at the themes contained within. Although Kyren is hot-headed and impetuous (and I disliked how much of that was attributed to his race, but we’ll get there in a moment), I found myself sympathizing with him and his plight as the book went on.
The magic system itself is well rendered and original, clearly borne of a great deal of painstaking research into the cultures he mimicked and used as the basis for his world. I’m not sure whether I can quite call appropriation here or not, but for what it’s worth I enjoyed my time spent within the world and look forward to the second book when it comes out.
I also particularly loved the climax of the novel. Although much of what happened was abstract and difficult for the character (and the reader, through the character’s confusion) to comprehend, the descriptions were stunning and my emotions rose with the peak of the text. I’m definitely looking forward to the release of the second book in the series sometime later this year.
4.5/5, well worth your time and attention.