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Friday, January 4, 2008

The Legend of the Firefish

Recommended: The Legend of the Firefish (George Bryan Polivka), Book 1 of The Trophy Chase Trilogy.

I first heard about this book by browsing around the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. It's George Bryan Polivka's first fantasy publication, published in March of 2007. I have read very little of what I consider to be Christian Fantasy, and I'm always looking for new authors, so I was eager to read it. When Mister Troll told me about the Fantasy Debut blog, I decided that guest posting there would be fun if the owner would have me. It turns out that Tia is very gracious, and she told me she'd be happy to have a guest post from Books Under the Bridge, so here we are! Thank you, Tia and Fantasy Debut!

Reading more about the book on Polivka's website, as well as the introduction to his world, named Nearing Vast, I was intrigued to find out that the story has overt Christian themes. This is pretty unique in my experience, and when an author explores a religious, a-religious, or otherwise philosophical perspective in his work, he runs the risk of preaching or otherwise beating the reader over the head with his viewpoint, and thus making the story less likable to readers not already subscribing to his view. I wondered whether Polivka could pull it off, especially since he is new to the genre, and how he would manage it.

The story is about a fisherman's son, Packer Throme, who believes he knows the location of the breeding grounds of the legendary Firefish. The Firefish is a rare species of monstrous fish whose meat grants strength and healing to those who eat it, and its meat is thus very valuable.

Scatter Wilkins, pirate-turned-entrepreneur, is captain of the Trophy Chase. His new business is Firefish hunting, a very lucrative, but complex and dangerous business. The only thing keeping him from retiring rich is the rarity of the fish. If he just knew a reliable way to find them....

Packer has a plan to stow away on the Trophy Chase, and help Scat Wilkins find the breeding grounds. If he can convince the veteran pirate to believe his claims (and not kill him), he hopes that he can bring prosperity back to his little fishing village and redeem his father's reputation. From here, The Legend of the Firefish follows Packer through his gambit, and then the crew of the Trophy Chase as they track down a bounty that may be more danger than they can handle, or survive.

The summary above does not sound so religiously-themed. Where's the philosophy, the Christianity? The answer: it's in Packer's actions and motivations. And did Polivka come off preachy? To that, I'd answer a solid, "No." Instead, he wrote a ripping yarn, full of grace in style and content. The core of the story is inventive and packed with action. The religious themes are integral to the plot, and not just tacked-on window dressing or disguised sermons. To top it off, the story contains a certain purity that I have missed in many books I read nowadays. It often feels like a classic, because the writing is concise, pointed, and not frilled with excess description, dialog, or philosophizing.

The main characters are memorable and fresh. Packer is clever, likable, and complex. However, he occasionally thrashes over his beliefs, and comes across a little whiny/fatalistic when he does so. Thankfully, this is believable for his character, as he is a young man who has suffered some serious setbacks in his life, including expulsion from seminary school and a missing father largely considered crazy for rambling on about the Firefish breeding grounds.

The second main character is Panna Seline, Packer's sweetheart and daughter of the local priest. When Packer leaves town, she chases after him, as fantasy sweethearts are wont to do. I've read that Polivka intended for her to be a strong female character, and I believe he succeeded. However, she's not your typical Ass-Kicking Annie. Instead, when she sneaks out of town and encounters harsh reality, she realizes just how sheltered she has been, and rises to meet her unique challenges. And she's believable, sometimes excruciatingly so, such as when her naiveté leads her deeper into trouble.

Despite the strength of the main characters, it's the secondary characters that really make The Legend of the Firefish shine. The pirates and engineers of the Trophy Chase have been lovingly crafted, and they stand out in the fantasy genre. Characters such as the faithful Delaney, the academic John Hand, and the stoic, dynamite-wielding engineer, Stedman Due, all add a fantastic color to the story. Furthermore, the Firefish are powerfully-delivered antagonists, and they steal many of the scenes in which they appear. In some of these scenes, we get to see through the mind of the fish, and this adds a little Jaws-like atmosphere into the mix of the story. All of these great characters work to fill out Firefish and make it both engaging and memorable.

Lastly, the descriptions of the ships and the seamanship really captured me. The various stunts and maneuvers read authentically, and as a sailing enthusiast, I often found myself wishing I had a chance to ride in the rigging of the sleekly grand Trophy Chase.

I look forward to continuing Polivka's series with The Hand that Bears the Sword and The Battle for Vast Dominion, both of which have been recently published.


Mister Troll said...

You've piqued my interest! I'll request it from the library. Admittedly, with 17 books checked out, 1 on hold, and 46 books and videos still on the request list, I may not get to it right away.

I am interested more in the Christian themes in the book. As you said in your post, your brief summary of the plot didn't bring out much religious, yet you had said the Christian themes are overt. And when you say "overt", I immediately think of The Chronicles of Narnia (wonderful books; dreadful movie). Would you consider comparing/contrasting (I sound like an English teacher)? Or explaining how Legend is "overt" more specifically?

I'm still readying my post on religion in sci-fi, but I might even be ready to put it up next week.

Mister Troll said...

Oop. My library doesn't own it. So naturally I put in a request. It would probably simplify things for them if they just gave me purchasing power given how many requests I put in (the vast majority of which they accede to - everyone please hug your librarian today).

Joel said...

Mister Troll, in regard to your question about the overt Christian themes, let me repeat that it's all about Packer's actions. He's got a way of trying to solve problems in non-violent ways, and following the teachings of Jesus, even though he's thrown into these terrible situations with and against people who don't care a whit about his religion (and one who actively despises it).

I'm looking forward to your post on religion in sci-fi!

Unknown said...

Hi guys-chrisd from write and whine here.

I'll probably get in trouble for saying this but I quit reading LotFF about half way through. I could not get into it.

I wanted to slap the main character (the man), but the girl and the piratey woman, I really liked them a lot. And I liked the part about the Firefish, but the main character just bugged me too much.

Maybe it's the piratey thing. I don't know, but I couldn't get into it.

Have you guys checked out The Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari? It was ok. I finished it, at least.

Joel said...

aspiemom - I can understand your annoyance at the main character. To be honest, I felt something similar at about the halfway point. I also put the book aside for a while, and came back to it after doing some Christmas reading. :)

However, there were a few scenes later on that were very good. Also, the main character worries less after the halfway point of the book. I also liked the end, although I was wondering if I would when I had an idea of what was coming.

I have not read The Book of Joby. However, I have to admit that your recommendation of it is not very inspiring. :) Perhaps I will give it a try sometime, however.

I hope you are having a good time over at your new (or old?) blog! I will stop by to visit! :)