Joint Review: Dawn of the Flame Seas by Jean Johnson

Marlene: I picked this up because I usually love Jean Johnson’s writing, whether it is military SF or science fiction romance or fantasy romance. I even hunted up her fanfiction, and loved that too. But this, this just doesn’t read like her usual. And by usual I mean that it was not instantly absorbing. Nor was there a whole lot going on. Instead, this book is a whole lot of worldbuilding. And while I like and expect worldbuilding in both my SF and my fantasy, it does not an exciting story make, certainly not all by itself.

Lou: Jean Johnson is a new-to-me-author, who Marlene and Has have both praised to me before. So I was excited in trying Dawn of the Flame Seas because the premise sounded amazing. Sadly this ended up being a DNF for me at the 30% mark. For what Marlene said above. There was worldbuilding. Lots and lots and lots of worldbuilding that felt like a huge info dump that seemed never-ending. It took me a while to understand the glossary!

Marlene: The whole point of magic for me is that it works. At least in the world I’m reading about, since it doesn’t work here. While some information about how it works is interesting, there’s a point where it stops being necessary, or possibly even desireable.

For example, in the end we don’t really know a lot about exactly how magic works in the Harry Potter universe. We know that it works, and that some spells are light and others are dark, but not the nitty-gritty details of exactly where the power comes from. Some people are witches and wizards, some are squibs, some are muggles, and that’s really all we need to know.

In Dawn of the Flame Seas, the author goes into seemingly endless detail. Or at least it feels that way. I want to know what magic does (and what it doesn’t). The midi-chlorians or their local equivalent just aren’t that fascinating.

Lou: Again, what Marlene said above. I love worldbuilding. I love it when a world captures me and fails to let go. I don’t need to know every single detail but I need to understand and be engaged in how things work. The Fae Rii are travellers, who open gateways to new worlds in which they tap into and I kinda thought they weren’t very nice people in how they dictated to the refugee camp of the White Sands tribe, and Ban, who came across as quite unlikeable in the beginning. Because so much of the story of what I read was all about the details, the character development seemed to be a very distant second. And I’m very much a character-driven reader. The characters felt too disconnected and I couldn’t grasp who the main protagonists were.

Marlene: There is so much worldbuilding here, and so little plot, that I expected to discover that this was the introductory novella for this series. Instead I discovered that there already had been an introductory novella (Birthright) which makes me wonder why the worldbuilding got done again.

Instead, because this is a relatively short novella, the character development that Johnson usually does such an excellent job with seems to have been sacrificed to all that worldbuilding. We see the local tribe merge with the Fair Traders (think elves) who come from off-planet via portal, but we don’t get inside the head or the heart of any of the principals in the story. This story feels like it is all set up for something yet to come.

Lou: I thought this novella WAS the introduction to the world O.o. So yes, why was so much worldbuilding dedicated to Dawn of the Flame Seas?

Marlene: Admittedly, the leader of the Fair Traders is more interested in waging peace than in waging war. Waging peace may be the moral high ground, but it means that there isn’t nearly as much action as I’ve come to expect in one of Johnson’s books. There is also no internal conflict. There are outside tribes who mistakenly come to conquer the Flame Sea, but they are defeated so easily that there is no dramatic tension involved.

As much as I normally enjoy Johnson’s writing, this simply did not live up to her or its potential, and I am very disappointed.

I give Dawn of the Flame Seas a very meh C-

Lou: I can’t write more about the story as I only got into 30% but I found it to be really lack-lustre for what was an exciting premise. The Fae travellers do want peace but I thought dictating and showing their power in making that happen, in the beginning at least, put me right off them, even if it was done because they DO want peace. It sounds like I didn’t miss much.

I won’t grade the book as I didn’t complete it, but I wish this wasn’t my first introduction to Jean Johnson’s work. I trust Marlene and Has and I’ll definitely try Johnson’s other works out.

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