Fires of Azeroth

by C.J. Cherryh

Cover image

Series: Morgaine #3
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 1979
Printing: March 2000
ISBN: 0-88677-877-8
Format: Mass market
Pages: 250

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Fires of Azeroth is the third book of the Morgaine series and builds on the relationship between Morgaine and Vanye built in previous volumes. It's readable on its own, and, given the weakness of the previous volumes, starting here is worth considering, but villains and previous worlds are relevant to the story. I read this book as part of The Morgaine Saga omnibus; the sidebar information is for that edition.

As in Well of Shiuan, Fire of Azeroth opens with Morgaine and Vanye in a new world (although this time without introducing a new supporting character). This world, though, is not already a disaster. Quite the opposite: the deep forest into which they've travelled, fleeing the horde from the previous book, is pristine, sheltered, and beautiful. When the meet the native inhabitants, they're welcoming and trusting, such an abrupt change from their previous travels that Morgaine and Vanye are both tempted and worried.

I'm very glad that, after the previous two marginal books, I went ahead and read this one. Not only is it much better, it shows what the previous books were missing. Previously, Morgaine and Vanye's darkness and angst have been set against worlds that were at best harsh and at worst nightmares. It's hard to tell a story in uniform black. Here, Cherryh writes a world that both the reader and the characters care deeply about and want to protect. The background provides contrast and a reason to care about the story.

In the Shathan forest and its inhabitants and protectors, Cherryh captures a sense of age, sacredness, and longing that reminded me of Tolkien's Lothlorien or any of the more successful portrayals of sacred woods. It's beautiful, deep, and full of a feeling of peace and age in the way that no location has been previously in the series. The inhabitants are worth caring about, Morgaine and Vanye make friends the reader can root for throughout the book, and Shathan is resilient and not just the next target of evil. This makes for a more balanced story, a more effective sense of growing suspense, and a climactic battle and aftermath full of hard decisions.

Cherryh also finally lets Morgaine open up a bit. Vanye drops some of his obstinate refusal to learn anything about her world, spends less time angsting and more time trying to understand Morgaine's options, and is more of an active force. It helps that the social structure of Shathan has space for both of them. They fit, on the surface, but contrast with expectations in ways that highlight their relationship. The inhabitants of Shathan give Vanye a word and a structure for his relationship with Morgaine that, while not fully explored here, opens some cracks in the wall between them. The decisions are still a bit overwrought and the book bogs down some in the middle when Vanye is separated from Morgaine, but the ending more than makes up for it.

This is still a dark book with only glimmers of hope and light, but there are those glimmers and a background in which they can shine. By the end of the book, I cared deeply for the world, was dreading the damage that might come to it, and was on the edge of my seat hoping Morgaine and Vanye would find some solution. That's considerably more emotional involvement than I've had in the series to date.

The formal and slightly archaic language still wears. Vanye isn't without dramatic angst-fests, and Cherryh still occasionally pounds into the reader how dark and miserable everything is. But there's enough else in this book worth caring about to make it stand head and shoulders above the previous entries in the series. Whether it's worth starting in the middle of the series or wading through the previous books to get to this one is another question, but I can recommend this book on its own merits.

Followed by Exile's Gate.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-12-26

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