The Brothers of the Ikkuma Pit have fended for themselves since birth. They have no Mothers; only themselves and each other. When they arrive outside the Pit as babies, they must spend a whole night alone before they are welcomed inside to be cared for and guided by the Brothers that came before them. Every time a new Little Brother enters the Pit, a Big Brother must leave to make room for him. No Big Brother has ever returned after leaving to tell of what the outside world holds.

Urgle is a Big Brother and he’s not very good at it. His Little Brother Cubby never listens to him, a Brother named Fiver has bullied him since day one, and his best friend Av always outshines him. His nickname around the Pit is Useless, and he’s starting to feel that way.

That is, until a Big Brother named Blaze returns, with a couple of unfamiliar and bloodthirsty creatures hot on his heels. The Brothers of the Pit welcome him back with feasts and revelry. Everyone’s glad to have him back, no questions asked, except for Urgle. And it all only gets worst when the unthinkable happens, and Cubby is snatched from the fiery safety of the Pit. Now, Urgle, Av, and Fiver led by Blaze are forced to prematurely leave their home and are thrust headlong into a religious war and eventually into the den of the Belphebans: their Mothers.

The Boys of Fire and Ash is author Meaghan McIsaac’s debut novel. The book is ripe with rich visual description, firmly grounding the reader in the world she weaves. Even the least significant characters have something to do with driving the plot forward. Everyone Urgle comes into contact with, everyone McIsaac introduces the reader to is somehow necessary in the story. It’s done in such a subtle, brilliant way, it’s almost easy to miss.

The novel is driven by action. Fight sequences, chase sequences; it’s a high energy shot of adrenaline so pure that the readers get a chance to breathe about as often as the characters do. Urgle is a reliable narrator, and relatable in an underdog sort of way. His constant self deprecation comes from years of being put down by his Brothers, and at some points is a little heartbreaking (and irritating) to read.  His decision making skills are poor at best, but being thrust into unknown territory trying to retrieve some of the only family he knows leaves the reader enough room for sympathy.

McIsaac tries to fit what should be a several part series into one  almost painfully short novel. What appears as an attempt to keep the novel fast paced and interesting sacrifices valuable exposition, which could probably leave some readers just as floating and confused as Urgle is throughout the text. While it is interesting that the reader is just as confused about the world outside of the Ikkuma Pit as Urgle is, characters with valuable information (like Blake, the Belphebans, or even the Beginners themselves) are often sidelined to keep the action propelled forward.

McIsaac’s world building also suffers from a lack of exposition. The hunter/gatherer nature of the Ikkumans, Belphebans, and other small societies within the text is shattered by the knowledge that Blake has, and can use a functioning pistol. However, the text makes no mention of other technologies at the disposal of the characters in this world. The reader is left confused as to what era exactly the text is taking place in, and whether or not the world these characters live in is parallel to our own.

The Boys of Fire and Ash is an interesting, lightning speed read with an ending that suggests sequels (and some highly anticipated explanations) are already on their way.

  • Posted by Nailah

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