Book Review: The Door Into Fire Opens onto an Intriguing World

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It took me almost 11 months to finish Diane Duane’s The Door Into Fire, first in The Tale of the Five series. I found a reference to this adult series by Duane on her blog, Out of Ambit, and not more than a few days later, found the first two books in Tattered Pages. It seemed fated and being already a big fan of Duane’s middle-grade/teen series, Young Wizards, and being more an adult than teen myself now, I thought I had better try the series.

I knew very little about these books before I bought them, only what that blog post and the covers revealed. First let me mention that there are several covers, and that if I’d even seen one of them, the Methuen/Magnet Books (UK) cover, (discretion advised), I’d have run so far in the other direction…. As it was, I found the cover above, with nothing to deter me and everything to recommend the book: a good-looking man in medieval-like clothes on a bright chestnut horse trailing fire and Duane’s name.  Neither cover really works well for me as an indicator of the story inside, but I’m very glad to say that about the one in the link. I don’t want anyone to run in the opposite direction purely because they find that cover.

Within three months, I got about 70% of the way through the novel… and then I don’t know what happened. I don’t think that whatever happened was the fault of the plot. Looking back, that seems to be a pretty exciting part of the book, battling dark spirits from another dimension and holding them back with only a net of magic.

It might have had to do more with the characters, to whom I didn’t particularly connect at any point during the book. I want to be able to diagnose why. I haven’t yet been able to fully, but here are a few thoughts:

1) The characters around Freelorn are complete mysteries even after I close the book—and I can only remember the name of one of his party—a woman who is the heroine of the sequel book. Maybe Duane hadn’t learned how to handle a larger cast yet. I’m researching now and I think that this is Duane’s first book, coming even before her Star Trek novelizations.

2) I like to expect sex rather than be surprised by it. Even so I’m very particular and am still a fan of scenes that fade to black or are at least inexplicit. From the blog and the cover blurb, I wouldn’t have thought that these books had much to do with romance, let alone with the consummation of any romantic feelings.

What scenes there were here were inexplicit, but there were several romantic entanglements, heterosexual, homosexual, with a goddess, with an elemental. While I respect Duane’s openness and boldness in choosing to write about such relationship, especially knowing Duane from her Young Wizards series, which is steeped in Christian mythology and in which Duane scoffs at the perceived necessity of a sexual relationship to drive plot or sales, these relationships were unexpected.

That unwanted surprise created distance between me and the characters, like a broken trust.

I did like that Duane focused on the complications of these relationships rather than on the sexual acts. I also liked what she did with sexual relations in regards to the religion of the world.

The religion that Duane invents for this world is very thought provoking, I think especially knowing as I think that I do from Young Wizards that Duane is familiar with the Christian mythology.

The deity here is a woman (there are some wonderful feminist undertones in this book–especially considering that the book has a male protagonist whose primary romantic partner is also male)—a pansexual woman, who has intercourse with several of the heroes and our heroine simultaneously at one point in the story and gives the main protagonist—Herewiss—a drug to allow him to see as She sees. She is in search of Her best and fullest Self by helping mankind to be their best selves.

The religion and the novel are about self-discovery and -acceptance. That self-acceptance and –discovery manifests very physically for Herewiss in the unlocking of his Flame—or magical energy—to which he has had but limited access (though what he has been able to do with this limited access is rather astounding, so he ought to be a true force to be reckoned with—a hurricane where all who oppose him are but gnats—when he obtains full access; that’s a frightening idea, and I hope that Duane plays with that truly overwhelming power through the series).

The astoundingly beautiful language and the complex and scientific conceptualizations of magic are here as well as in the Young Wizards series. Because that is a lot of what I love of the Young Wizards series, it seems worth mentioning. I have several passages marked that I particularly enjoyed. All those, as I look back on it, are descriptions of the magic that Duane has invented for this world, which I think struck a particular chord while I’m working on defining and describing my own for my WIP.

It’s not a story I regret. It’s one that I’d like to try again and read over a shorter period of time. If that changes my opinion, I will let you all know.

***1/2

Duane, Diane. The Tale of the Five, Book 1: The Door Into Fire. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty, 1985. Originally published by Dell in 1979.  The original I think was under James R. Frenkel, who left Dell to found Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press; Tor reprinted the text with Bluejay’s permission.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane, Tor Books, Tom Doherty Associates, Dell Publishing (now owned by Random House), Bluejay Books, or  St. Martin’s Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Hey!  Don’t take my word for it.  Here’s a review by Jo Walton on Tor.com.  I love the voice that she uses for this review, and she makes some excellent points.

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