I just finished reading W. L. Hoffman’s work The First Mother’s Fire, which is book one of what will be The Soulstealer War series. Hoffman, a law professional by day, has been a science-fiction and fantasy lover all his life and while toiling away at law school, the foundation for The Soulstealer War was born. Years later he penned his ideas to paper and created The First Mother’s Fire, which is his first literary attempt, and as such, is impressive.
Kenneth McNary is a law graduate deciding what to do with his future by taking a few months off to hike on the Appalachian Trail. He has certain traits he has inherited from his family: from his father he grew to be an analytical and logic-minded man, from his Uncle Dale, he learned to be an outdoorsman with survival skills, and from his Grandma Gwen he learned about faeries and other alternatives to mainstream religion. These three people are important in Kenneth’s life and helped make him who he is. One aspect of Kenneth that wasn’t taught is his sixth sense, something that kicks in when he is in danger (which has saved him many times from possible death). All this is important because Kenneth is about to be thrust into a scenario which is out of this world. Weir is a much older parallel world to Earth which can be accessed with the right magic through portals. The Elder Race, created by the First Mother, have lost most of their magic in Weir and blame the humans for their insipid ways. Magic is not gone from Weir, though, the Nosferu, a new race, have much magic and claim to want to save Weir and its inhabitants. Kenneth learns through the First Mother herself, who has not been in communication with the Elder Race for a long time, that the Nosferu are evil and use their magic to destroy. She gives him the task of seeking out and defeating the Nosferu. Kenneth goes through the portal and quickly befriends Aldren of the Elder Race and realizes that the First Mother not only has given him a task, but has given him special powers to achieve that task. However, Kenneth also learns that this task will be harder since the Elder Race holds humans in disregard and enslaves them. The First Mother’s Fire continues to tell the tale of how Kenneth deals with the cards dealt him and how he wins the respect of some, while becoming a bitter enemy to others.
I enjoyed Hoffman’s descriptive storytelling and the world he used to explore his various themes. The world he created is very satisfying. Weir as the older “inner” world filled with magic and history, and Earth as the newer “outer” world corrupting nature with no respect for magic. I think his character development is superb; he gives us both physical descriptions of the different races and also lets us into their mindset of why they believe and act the way they do. He uses his magic system to help explore the themes of environmentalism and religion. Weir’s world is based on magic from the First Mother and is tied to nature; the first tree that Kenneth camped under protecting him was a great example of the nature aspect and is something I enjoyed immensely being more aware of today’s lack of respect for natural resources. The souldrinking concept of the Nosferu was very entertaining, but The Soulstealer’s Doom black armor was perhaps the best use of a magical device to test the protagonist’s inner strength.
Although Hoffman’s approach is novel, his themes are similar to many science-fiction/fantasy books. Good verse evil, free will verse destiny, compassion verse greed, logic versus creativity, meaning of life and death and the compassion within. Hoffman plays no tricks with these; you absolutely know he is questioning and exploring, logic, compassion, religion, destiny.
One of the few criticisms I have with that is that it could be more subtle, especially when dealing with Kenneth’s italicized thoughts. At one lengthy soliloquy I found myself skimming the paragraph. Some more mature fantasy readers might feel like they’re getting cheated since they are not able to discover them on their own. What makes up for this weakness is the way he shows the inner struggle of Kenneth.
My only other criticism is a criticism of many fantasy books--serialization. While I’m not sure what Hoffman’s plans are for Kenneth, or how many books it will take to get there, I do know that upon finishing the last paragraph I turned the page looking for more. The end of book one didn’t seem climatic enough for me to warrant the end. That being said I’m a big fan of many series that have this same problem, the books themselves are not standalone novels, but the series are extremely gratifying – and I recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages.
Note: The above review was based on a book provided to me by the publisher and/or author. As always, I thank them for the opportunity to enjoy some new literature.