Call of Fire
When it comes right down to it, sequels are hit or miss. When the author does a fantastic job of setting up an alternate history in book one, as Beth Cato does in Breath of Earth, it’s a really hard act to follow. In the end, Call of Fire is a good follow up, but doesn’t quite match the intensity of the first book – instead, there is so much going on at any given moment that it gets a little blurry.
Let’s start with a quick recap of Breath of Earth. It’s the early 1900s, and Ingrid Carmichael works for the geomancers, gentlemen who absorb energy from the earth and redirect it into crystals used to power things from flying ships to cars to homes. Without draining off some of this energy, areas like her home of San Francisco are under threat from deadly and damaging earthquakes on a regular basis.
But in this alternative history, the two main powers in the Pacific are the United States and Japan – their relationship overshadowing other pacific entities such as China and the various islands. In the States, the Chinese are seen as the lowest of the low – so far below Americans and Japanese that they are believed little more than savages. And Ingrid, of mixed race and a woman, is barely above them on the scale of things. So when the geomancers’ base is destroyed, and Ingrid and her Japanese employer/guardian are the only known survivors, the two come under close scrutiny. Ingrid soon finds herself running from military forces and a powerful enemy, all the while trying to figure out who and what is causing the increasingly devastating tremors wracking the city.
At the beginning of Call of Fire, Ingrid has escaped San Francisco with the help of Cy and Fenris in their airship, alongside Lee, her mentor’s Chinese servant (who has a secret of his own). Ingrid’s powers are curiously strong, and there seems to be no limit to the abilities she inherited from her father, who disappeared years ago. Their god-like powers cause no end of trouble, and (since at the end of book one, Ingrid met her father, who has gone full-on crazy) now it looks like her Pacific Islander father may be the son of Pele? As Ingrid and crew fly away from San Francisco, there are still more people after them, from the Ambassadors (of which there isn’t really a modern equivalent, but think someone who is basically impervious to harm, has diplomatic immunity, and is generally followed around by a personal army) to the Chinese to the actual army.
So, we have the group on the run from, well, everyone, and Ingrid dealing with the fallout from her father, and a burgeoning romance between Ingrid and Cy. It’s not a very romantic romance – they like each other, and that’s pretty much where we’re at, with Cy caring much more about appearances and societal expectations than Ingrid – but it’s sweet and realistic. They are literally running for their lives. This is not the time for an epic love story.
The romance is probably the least engaging part of the novel, however, since we are still digging into Ingrid’s powers, into Lee’s heritage, and the general politics of this alternate timeline. Since it picks up right where book one leaves off, you definitely want to read this series in order, or you are going to be beyond confused. Book two focuses on backstory, and on setting up book three.
That said, Call of Fire was an enjoyable story, and I’m looking forward to book three – it’s listed as a trilogy, so I’m expecting things to be wrapped up once we get there. Sadly, there is no release date yet.