Wheels of Fire, by Mercedes Lackey, Mark Shepherd

wheels-of-fire-by-mercedes-lackey-mark-shepherd coverGenre: Modern/Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Baen
Published: 1992
Reviewer Rating: one and a half stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is the second book in The Serrated Edge series. I didn’t much enjoy the first, Born to Run, but as I’d bought both books at the same time I read Wheels of Fire too. Besides, Born to Run was not without its good points — two flavors of elf-like Sidhe throwing magic at each other; a different sort of magic from one human mage and the mention of many others; ghosts with some magical abilities of their own; even extraterrestrial mages off-stage — surely an accomplished writer like Mercedes Lackey could make something worth reading out of this material at the second attempt, even when diluted by a co-author.

Well maybe she could, but here she didn’t even try. Instead of building on its predecessor’s virtues, this book builds on its vices, and I don’t just mean that figuratively. A substantial part of Born to Run’s plot involved the nasty experiences of life as a teenage runaway, including prostitution, physical abuse and drugs. Wheels of Fire devotes an even greater proportion of itself to similar unpleasantness. The plot consists of the search of a mother for her young son, abducted by his alcoholic father who has become a member of a religious sect; though “religious sect” is an inadequate description for something more like a neo-Nazi private army.

So what about the Fantasy aspect. There is precisely one Sidhe, Alinor (and some continuity-seeking name dropping of others from the first book). He has two elvensteeds. There is one, rather supernumerary, ghost. Supernatural evil is represented by a creature labelled a Salamander: why I don’t know, as there is no obvious association either with fire or amphibia. Left over from the Crusades, where it was used to “inflame” mobs, it has fallen into the hands of the sect’s leader (or perhaps vice versa).

Alinor agrees to help to search for the missing boy but he finds him in the enemy camp, where he is being (ab)used as a Medium to release the Salamander’s powers. Cue a long and rather contrived flashback to the Crusade when he first met Salamanders. After telling us several times how he can’t possibly overcome the creature, he proceeds to do so quite easily, and rescues the child just in time to prevent him from being rescued by everyone else.

I feel there are two things wrong with this book. The first is inadequate plotting — in the main plot the boy is abducted/abused/rescued without any twists or surprises to hold our interest, and there are no subplots to mention at all. The second I have already alluded to: this is a mainstream novel with a bit of fantasy thrown in. The bulk of the book just describes the nastiness of child-abduction and of the sect. And whereas in Born to Run, there was plenty of magic to counterbalance the mundane, here there is much less. In fact, if all mention of Sidhe and magic were removed, the story and its outcome would be unchanged. So unless you fancy a mediocre mainstream novel spiced with a smattering of fantasy, avoid.

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