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The Fires of Shalsha Paperback – November 18, 2015
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About the Author
John Michael Greer has authored many works including: The Long Descent, Learning Ritual Magic, Monsters, The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, A World Full of Gods, Encyclopedia of Natural Magic, The Druid Magic Handbook, Atlantis, Pagan Prayer Beads, Academy of the Sword, The Druidry Handbook, Inside A Magical Lodge and others but this is his first novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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First, I want to talk about the good. This is a book that proposes a future of a planet much like Earth that's unlike any science fiction I have read. It's a world built after the fall of a society much like our current civilization, one that's more in tune with Nature and consciousness. That's what makes this book a page turner. It presents a very interesting picture, and it explores the potential of what consciousness can do once it is honed and interwoven in society as something of a norm to focus on (if that makes sense).
John Michael Greer's prose, as well, is top-notch. He has an eloquent manner of speaking, one that gently flutters off the page in a very conversational tone. It's the kind of prose you'd hear from a well-read buddy as the two of you are spending a warm Summer night staring at the stars, watching a meteor shower.
What's holding this book back though? Characters. The characters and their motivations just aren't interesting enough. There's something too coldly "logical" about them that wrings of lacking emotion. There doesn't feel to be a sense of inner turmoil in any of these people. A great threat looms on the horizon that threatens their very way of life, and all we can get is a mild sense of worry out of these people. "Danger? Hmph. We better study this. Amery, go find an encyclopedia. I better read a passage on what we're dealing with, then go calmly contemplate."
If it wasn't for my interest in this future Greer was positing, I would have put this book down and moved on to something else. These characters are just too bland. They're more like pieces of scenery or objects to move the theme along.
That said, I'd recommend this book for someone deeply interested in consciousness exploration and scifi. If you're looking for something enthralling on a human level, this wouldn't be the book.
The primary protagonist is a young man with traumatic amnesia; the horrible secret that lies in his past is fairly predictable, but it's well developed. However, his mentor, a fiftyish Halka still coping with lasting regrets of his own, gets at least equal time. Our fantasy and sci-fi is so dominated by the hero's quest plot that it's fairly rare for an older person to be a featured protagonist, and this middle-aged reader is glad to see it. Stefan spends much of the book trying to piece together the meaning of a vision of fire, and the scene when he fully understands it, and goes to meet it,will make your hair stand up. There are also strong female characters, including a young Halka who plays a critical role in the world's defense. I've noted before that Greer hates facile dualities; though the bad guys are really bad, ultimately it comes out that they had a righteous motive that must be addressed, and meanwhile, the Halka themselves must acknowledge that their noble and self-sacrificing order has fallen into error and needs reform. This is both a good, entertaining story and an intelligent, thought-provoking book.
This story of a world far away, with a very simplified social system, and a linear history, is useful, reminding us that we really do need to be aware of the past as parent to the future, and respond to that understanding in adult ways; we preserve the past to enable the future, but what we preserve is limited by time, mice and silverfish, by our honesty and by our vision of what is needful. We censor the future by our choices today.
Ah, well, earth abides, and this book has a bit to do with understanding patterns, recognizing oneself, and being a different kind of person at the end of the day.
A good legible read, with a deep story and a surface story, and it ends a bit soon for my gustatory wishes. I would have preferred to roll around on the moss a moment longer... but how?