Monday, 19 January 2015

Review: The Devil's Fire by Matt Tomerlin

Matt Tomerlin's The Devil's Fire is the first novel in a series of three, telling the story of Katherine Lindsay whose husband is brutally killed in front of her before she herself is dragged aboard a pirate ship. It is set in the somewhat over-used time period when Nassau was the pirate haven in the Caribbean. Forced to share a cabin with a pirate captain for several months, Katherine begins to get used to the life at sea. But the shadow of her dead husband is ever-present...

The story is told from several points of views: Katherine, the pirate captain and several other crew members. They are all introduced exceedingly well in the beginning chapters and the story is off to a great start. The main story is about the relationships of the characters and how Katherine's presence eventually changes the crew and its dynamics - and how she changes from a pampered London lady into a hardened woman. Unfortunately, the middle of the novel falls slightly flat and doesn't increase the tension as much as it could - Katherine's ordeal could have done with a bit more examination of the apparent Stockholm syndrome - and the characters' thoughts and feelings could generally have been explored in more depth. It is in this that I find the comparisons with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series a bit over-enthusiastic.

The last third of the novel managed to increase the tension a little bit before the finale - which came surprisingly quickly and seemed perhaps somewhat rushed. I feel that especially Katherine's motivations could have been explored more before the finale began. The finale also used a little bit too much time to set the stage for the next novel in the series, where it could better have used it to underlined the theme of the first novel.

However, the above weaknesses are minor and the energetic and visceral writing style of Tomerlin easily compensated for them. Life aboard a pirate ship is described very well, the ruthlessness of the characters comes across wonderfully and you can taste the blood and hear the whimpers when one character guts another with a cutlass. None of the characters make it through the story unchanged or unmauled. Very much recommended to any fan of historical fiction or pirates.