The two things that I’ve seen most frequently mentioned by people reviewing Flames of Mira are the setting and the magic system, and while both merit mention, neither are why you ought to read this book. For all of the gritty, brutal, evocative action, the story is one that explores the nature of how pursuit of ends can lead to justifying the use of fundamentally corrupt means, and more to the point how a person with “no choice” but to be complicit in those fundamentally corrupt means may, in fact, always have a choice (if, of course, that choice comes at a cost that one might not willingly pay). So, while you absolutely will revel in the magic and the action (read on, oh ho, read on) and the setting is a spectacular break from the standard SFF fare, the soul of the book is deeper, and more satisfying, and absolutely worth your time.
Clay Harmon gives us the story of a powerful “elemental,” Ig, who is in the service of the ruler of a city state. In many ways, this story feels in some ways like it would be right at home on the streets of New York City when (at least their Hollywood versions) mafia bosses establish territory and feud for control. But, unlike watching the scions of the Corleone family engaging in power politics from someone on the inside, Flames of Mira gives us Ig, an enforcer whose free will is somewhat uncertain. From Ig’s perspective, we delve into his free will, his complicity with evil, and where a soldier’s breaking point on “just following orders” might lie.
Additionally, we observe and explore the steps that “good” people take on a path as they set out for justice, and like the dark and murky depths of the setting, they don’t see the pitfalls along the way.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the setting. This is no jaunt across the Merry old England of Errol Flynn’s dreams, this is the hardscrabble effort of humanity clinging desperately to life in a world that is Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Center of the Earth crossed with Hieronymus Bosch and Dante Alighieri in the midst of a bad bout of ergot poisoning. The world we explore is a shattered, cavernous, subterranean environment of wildly fluctuating temperature extremes (the surface is frozen, and veins of magma flow everywhere, giving the basis for the tag line “Death by ash, or death by ice”). Bioluminescence, forests of fungi, mammoth and horrifying insects, and more populate a place as hostile to the human characters as any I can recall, and sets the dark tone of the story from the first page.
The magic system is also something that gets positive press for being unique (characters bind to and control elements, as in elements from the periodic table) and which is put to use to clever and interesting uses. But more (and more to my personal preferences), it never feels pedantic or formulaic. Interesting characters push their powers in interesting directions and use it do accomplish fantastic and exciting things. Besides, who doesn’t want to see someone get punched in the face with lava?
Do yourself a favor and don’t sleep on this one.