Nicholas C. Prata,
Dream of Fire
(Arx, 2001)

Nicholas C. Prata's Dream of Fire makes for an intellectually challenging but very rewarding work of dark fantasy. I had a little trouble developing a real connection with the novel early on because of numerous references to completely alien terms and expressions; fortunately, Prata provides a glossary at the end of the book that defines such important and much-used terms as stalenzka, chiampugula and landesknecta. He also provides several appendices summarizing military tactics and the histories of the cultures featured in the story. It is an extraordinary effort on the part of the author to define this world of his imagination in extremely realistic terms. At times, I felt as if I must have missed history class the day we covered these cultures, as Prata certainly writes about them as if they were as real as the ancient historical peoples of Earth.

The centerpiece of the story is Kerebos Ikar, leader of the Black Legion and unquestionably the most feared man on the world of Pangaea. Untold men, women and children have been brutalized and slain by this man over the years, but Kerebos is not the simple monster of a man he appears to be. Each night finds him screaming in the throes of awful nightmares, and each day finds him pursuing the destruction of the entire world -- starting with himself, for Kerebos is haunted by the fact that he murdered his own father.

Kerebos' opposite in virtually every way is Antiphon al-Caliph, a timid priest of the Order of the White Flame who is sent to bring the fierce warrior, seemingly hell's own minion, back to the holy city of Kwan Aharon. Sacred prophecy points to Kerebos as the man who will bring salvation and deliver the faithful over to the kingdom while the world sinks into apocalyptic oblivion. The relationship that develops between Antiphon and Kerebos is complex and fascinating. Kerebos thinks his sin is too great to be forgiven by God or man, and the philosophical depths to which he plunges in self-contemplation are both moving and very instructive to the reader.

While the depth and meaning of this novel take precedence over all else, there is plenty of heart-stopping, bloody action to go around as Kerebos the torturer and human monster transforms into God's fiery final prophet. Prata possesses impressive understanding of ancient military tactics, and this makes the engagements and armed clashes he describes verily ring with the clash of swords; not only can you envision the carnage of the battlefield, you can almost smell the blood and entrails that mark the landscape.

Dream of Fire thus succeeds admirably on two levels. The vividly described action sequences will appeal to those who yearn for excitement and wonderfully realistic battle scenes, while the deeper lessons of Kerebos' unique story will leave most readers pondering the philosophical and allegorical meaning of it all long after turning the last page. Few novels offer such a unique and powerful study of the nature of evil and the capacity for good in even the worst of men.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 12 March 2005

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