Billy Goat, one of the bloggers at Books Under the Bridge, offered to review THE LEGEND OF THE FIREFISH (USA, UK, Canada) by George Bryan Polivka, a debut fantasy that released on March 1, 2007. I must admit--he has me wanting to read it! He offered to let me repost it here in its entirety; therefore, I have done so. He has also posted it on his own website, so you might want to check out any comments that might show up at his original post.
I first heard about this book by browsing around the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. It's George Bryan Polivka's first fantasy publication, published in March of 2007. I have read very little of what I consider to be Christian Fantasy, and I'm always looking for new authors, so I was eager to read it. When Mister Troll told me about the Fantasy Debut blog, I decided that guest posting there would be fun if the owner would have me. It turns out that Tia is very gracious, and she told me she'd be happy to have a guest post from Books Under the Bridge, so here we are! Thank you, Tia and Fantasy Debut!
Reading more about the book on Polivka's website, as well as the introduction to his world, named Nearing Vast, I was intrigued to find out that the story has overt Christian themes. This is pretty unique in my experience, and when an author explores a religious, a-religious, or otherwise philosophical perspective in his work, he runs the risk of preaching or otherwise beating the reader over the head with his viewpoint, and thus making the story less likable to readers not already subscribing to his view. I wondered whether Polivka could pull it off, especially since he is new to the genre, and how he would manage it.
The story is about a fisherman's son, Packer Throme, who believes he knows the location of the breeding grounds of the legendary Firefish. The Firefish is a rare species of monstrous fish whose meat grants strength and healing to those who eat it, and its meat is thus very valuable.
Scatter Wilkins, pirate-turned-entrepreneur, is captain of the Trophy Chase. His new business is Firefish hunting, a very lucrative, but complex and dangerous business. The only thing keeping him from retiring rich is the rarity of the fish. If he just knew a reliable way to find them....
Packer has a plan to stow away on the Trophy Chase, and help Scat Wilkins find the breeding grounds. If he can convince the veteran pirate to believe his claims (and not kill him), he hopes that he can bring prosperity back to his little fishing village and redeem his father's reputation. From here, The Legend of the Firefish follows Packer through his gambit, and then the crew of the Trophy Chase as they track down a bounty that may be more danger than they can handle, or survive.
The summary above does not sound so religiously-themed. Where's the philosophy, the Christianity? The answer: it's in Packer's actions and motivations. And did Polivka come off preachy? To that, I'd answer a solid, "No." Instead, he wrote a ripping yarn, full of grace in style and content. The core of the story is inventive and packed with action. The religious themes are integral to the plot, and not just tacked-on window dressing or disguised sermons. To top it off, the story contains a certain purity that I have missed in many books I read nowadays. It often feels like a classic, because the writing is concise, pointed, and not frilled with excess description, dialog, or philosophizing.
The main characters are memorable and fresh. Packer is clever, likable, and complex. However, he occasionally thrashes over his beliefs, and comes across a little whiny/fatalistic when he does so. Thankfully, this is believable for his character, as he is a young man who has suffered some serious setbacks in his life, including expulsion from seminary school and a missing father largely considered crazy for rambling on about the Firefish breeding grounds.
The second main character is Panna Seline, Packer's sweetheart and daughter of the local priest. When Packer leaves town, she chases after him, as fantasy sweethearts are wont to do. I've read that Polivka intended for her to be a strong female character, and I believe he succeeded. However, she's not your typical Ass-Kicking Annie. Instead, when she sneaks out of town and encounters harsh reality, she realizes just how sheltered she has been, and rises to meet her unique challenges. And she's believable, sometimes excruciatingly so, such as when her naiveté leads her deeper into trouble.
Despite the strength of the main characters, it's the secondary characters that really make The Legend of the Firefish shine. The pirates and engineers of the Trophy Chase have been lovingly crafted, and they stand out in the fantasy genre. Characters such as the faithful Delaney, the academic John Hand, and the stoic, dynamite-wielding engineer, Stedman Due, all add a fantastic color to the story. Furthermore, the Firefish are powerfully-delivered antagonists, and they steal many of the scenes in which they appear. In some of these scenes, we get to see through the mind of the fish, and this adds a little Jaws-like atmosphere into the mix of the story. All of these great characters work to fill out Firefish and make it both engaging and memorable.
Lastly, the descriptions of the ships and the seamanship really captured me. The various stunts and maneuvers read authentically, and as a sailing enthusiast, I often found myself wishing I had a chance to ride in the rigging of the sleekly grand Trophy Chase.
I look forward to continuing Polivka's series with The Hand that Bears the Sword and The Battle for Vast Dominion, both of which have been recently published.