Starting out with Smoke Eaters, I was completely enamored. Grizzled elderly firefighter discovers he has an unusual gift to help fight dragons that have appeared in a post apocalyptic Ohio? Sign me on! Unfortunately, the more I read, the more this felt like a middle age/40s/50s year old male Mary Sue – where the girls fall all over him, he gets to beat the crap out of the bad guys, and he gets to save people and be a hero. It was a bit much, to be honest, and I’d probably have enjoyed it more if it was less mature-male fantasy material. But hey, it was also fun and I can’t say that I completely disliked it, either.
Story: Cole Brannigan is nearing 60 and ready to retire. He’s fought fires his whole life – and also recently had to tackle the fires caused by newly awakened dragons who have terrorized a reformed USA. With each major city turning into autonomous City-States and Canada closing its borders and communications with the US, life isn’t easy for a government worker. But nearing the last day of work, he goes to fight what should be a simple house fire and instead is the beginning of what looks to be odd occurrences drawing in dragons. When it is discovered he has a special ability that can be used to fight dragons, he will be coerced into joining the Smoke Eaters – the elite dragon fighting force. Life is about to really get interesting for Cole.
So why is this so much a Mary sue? Well, interview a man over 40 and ask if these would appeal: giving youngsters comeuppances, a young hot girl wanting to kiss and make out with you, a loyal wife at home taking care of your home, fighting dragons with big swords(!), saving people heroically, getting a hotter ripped body again, being recognized and promoted while still being able to rebel and wise crack, telling bosses exactly how you feel about them – all the things he would never encounter in a boring and mundane life. Well, all that and more is in here. So no, the tone in Smoke Eaters isn’t ‘tempered realism with dragons’; rather, it’s wise-cracking action adventure – a new type of snarky future-noir that we will likely see more of in the future.
The plot flows very quickly, going from action to action seamlessly. Our main character, everyman with an everyman type of heroic name, Cole Brannigan, gets some great snarky cracks in there and his dialogue is quite fun. Add in some fun additions like a mechanical dog who speaks Korean and you get the idea of this book – it’s sheer fun. Imagine Pacific Rim the movie – but with dragons and firefighters instead. In fact, this is so ready to be a Michael Bay movie that I’m surprised the screen rights haven’t been bought already.
Of course, since the author was a fireman, we get a lot of ‘brotherhood’ references and a more realistic approach to the actual job of firefighting. I was surprised there wasn’t more in there about fires and fighting them, to be honest, but this is about as jingostic as you will get for the profession. It radiates authenticity nicely.
If you don’t mind the wish fantasy fulfillment, it’s a fun ride. The writing is a bit choppy – it’s rough and ready like our grizzled main character Cole. As such it didn’t bother me as it would have in other books. But if there is an antithesis to women’s historical romance, this has got to be it. Both sides of the same coin, if you ask me. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.