Review: True Fire / Author: Gary Meehan / Publisher: Quercus / Release Date: May 1st
Gary Meehan’s True Fire is intended for a young adult audience, but with its sharp and honest prose it exceeds that readership. Meehan doesn’t address the reader as a child or as an adult, but simply as an equal and that makes for a fulfilling read. There’s a knowing to the text, a mutual understanding, and while it doesn’t have the intelligence of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, say, it has a similar conviction.
The narrative is short and precise, weaving together tight, well-constructed sentences into sparse, poetic description which has a timeless quality. A personal sets the story in motion. While a village getting sacked is hardly the most original opening, the thrill of the quest is compelling. The story loses momentum as it progresses, before rising from the slump with a twists-a-plenty third act.
Megan is an endearing narrator, a strong-willed and hardy individual. She’s not without a girlish side and a youthful desire for normality as she discovers her pregnancy is more than an inconvenience.
Young adult writers have a responsibility to be attentive and mature with their writing, and Meehan handles the darker side of life with surprising finesse. There’s a fair amount of socio-political commentary going on too, some of it buried in subtext, some of it more obvious. The text explores a lot of pressing issues, from gender politics to religion and, perhaps unsurprisingly, abortion.
On the downside, some of the conversation is far too modern and infused with the kind of jokes expected from all night gaming sessions, often at odds with the setting. It’s generally uncomfortable to have the modern so superimposed on traditional fantasy and maybe that’s progressive, but ultimately it’s a distraction.
The smart aleck character of Damon leaves a lot to be desired, and his introduction is about where the novel starts plodding along. While there are some surprising revelations to be had, his jokes fail to leave an impression. Elsewhere the quality isn’t consistent, fluctuating between run-of-the-mill genre fiction and something altogether deeper and more interesting. There’s some cringe-worthy metaphor and some gaudy innuendo, but all in all True Fire is a rewarding novel that doesn’t patronise its readers and offers a lot more than most young adult fiction.