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Duel of Fire by Jordan Rivet

Duel of Fire by Jordan Rivet
4.5
Book Name: Duel of Fire
Author: Jordan Rivet
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: March 29, 2016

Jordan Rivet’s book one of the Steel and Fire series, Duel of Fire, has a familiar premise: a girl living in an idyllic mountain kingdom, who can’t live up to her parent’s expectations, seeks validation elsewhere, only to find herself knee deep investigating a mysterious, convoluted plot to take power. No, it’s not Frozen (or Moana, or Mulan), and it doesn’t feature a singing princess with animal sidekicks. Nor is it The Phantom Menace, with a little kid who pod races and builds droids (think about that, every time in the original series on that C-3PO says, “Thank the maker!”).

Please, don’t run away! Don’t give up on Duel of Fire because of the comparisons!

All jokes aside, you cannot deny that Disney knows how to convey memorable stories that hit on eternal tropes; and so does Rivet. Whether the book is more similar in feel to Rogue One or The Last Jedi, you will have to read to decide.

The author’s merging of prose and worldbuilding is sublime. I could picture the misty slopes of the Kingdom of Vertigon, where bridges connect three peaks. I envisioned a Swiss town; and like Switzerland, Vertigon’s position high in the mountains has made it safe from invaders. With this fortified position, the country is relatively safe. Without external threats, swordplay has become less of a military practice and more of a spectator sport, complete with pageantry, fanfare, sponsors, etc. I saw it like fantasy NASCAR, if the drivers spoke with haughty European accents. The details of fencing show how versed the author is in the subject (I found out from an interview that she did fence in college).

A top-notch duelist, main character Dara Ruminor hopes to become the toast of the town by winning the coveted Vertigon Cup. Doing so could attract a sponsor, which would get her out of the demanding family business of making Fire Lanterns. For her, the business symbolizes personal failure: her father is one of the most powerful fire workers—craftsmen who can tap into the magical fire of the mountain— a talent she did not inherit. In this, she is like a past king, who was born without the power to work the fire, the latter leading to a rationing system the fire workers resent, while the former leads to her disenfranchisement in her own family.

Seeking validation elsewhere, Dara comes across as focused and dour in her drive to become a duelist. Her perfect foil is the Crown Prince, Siv. Handsome, charming, and laid back, he drives her crazy in more ways than one. His dialog is snappy and witty, and their chemistry pops off the pages.

The many memorable secondary characters include two princesses (one with an animal sidekick, but no singing), Dara’s fencing buddies, and her rival, the hipster Vine. However, it is her gruff fencing coach Berg, who both brings Dara and Siv together as fencing partners, and also sets the larger plot in motion by hinting at some sinister threat against the throne.

If I have any problem with the story, it is how far in the background that threat is until a third of the way through the book. Up to then, it is Dara’s trials and tribulations as she prepares for the fencing tournament; and while these personal stakes appeal to the young adult crowd to which this book is targeted, I found myself getting impatient and annoyed at times. However, once the vague threats against the throne come steadily to the fore as new layers of the plot unravel, the payoff is well worth the wait.

Because of the slow start, I will rate Duel of Fire a 9.0017, or about the same as Hong Kong-style salted fried chicken (in honor of Rivet’s current home, in Hong Kong). I won’t be reviewing book two, but I have already read it, and can tell you that the stakes get so much larger. It’s as if The Phantom Menace went straight to Revenge of the Sith.

Note: The audiobook is narrated by Caitlin Kelly. Her main narrator voice is splendid, and the core dialog voices for Dar and Siv are fine. Her French accent for the voice of Vertigon’s Queen is lusciously sensuous. Fencing coach Berg’s generic Eastern European accent is likewise memorable. However, some of the male voices, especially Oats, sounded ridiculous to me, and rival Vine’s was downright annoying in its high pitched intonation.

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