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Fire Bringer    by David Clement-Davies order for
Fire Bringer
by David Clement-Davies
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2002 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Fire Bringer is a fantasy epic on the grand scale of Richard Adam's Watership Down (the obvious comparison). The author parallels a power struggle (and the development of a Nazi-like leadership) amongst the red deer of ancient Scotland, with the human struggle going on at the time against Norse invaders. He also gives us, along with an entire deer mythology and the hero's quest of a young stag, an exploration of violence, its animal roots, and its relationship to evil.

It all begins with a consolidation of power by the ageing Drail, self-styled 'Lord of Herds' among the Herla (the red deer). Drail is egged on by a newcomer to the herd, the hornless deer Sgorr (of whom there are dark rumors) to treacherously slaughter the Outrider Captains. These stags are traditionally responsible for protection of the hinds, but have resisted Drail's desire to extend his lordship to other herds. Even as the most renowned Outrider Captain, Brechin, is killed, his son Rannoch is born to the hind Eloin. To protect her fawn, she gives him to another hind, whose stillborn child Eloin claims as her own.

For Rannoch is born with 'a leaf of oaken' on his brow, and is the prophesied changeling, 'Born to set the Herla free.' His tale begins slowly and develops into a series of adventures, as he matures, flees with friends from the herd, discovers an ability to converse with other animals, learns to heal, and meets with man in the form of a human boy. As Rannoch grows into his strength and his talents, Sgorr murders Drail, takes over the Low Lands, brutally suppresses opposition and 'cleanses' the area of other animals. Rannoch and his friends wend their way through various perils to the High Land, where Rannoch discovers (and fears) his own potential for violence.

There is a David and Goliath encounter between the good (represented by Rannoch, his friends and remnants of the last lowland Outriders) and the powerful force for evil that Sgorr has moulded out of all the different groups of lowland deer. Of course the good guys prevail, according to prophecy with help from 'the Herla's foe' and after Rannoch's 'need shall summon man'. There are many sacrifices, including one that Rannoch has feared all his life. As he contemplates past events, he worries that 'there is a wound in nature that nothing can heal' and concludes that evil comes from 'hurt and fear and trying to deny Herne's Law.'

This is a wonderful story. Though it starts slowly, Fire Bringer grows into an absorbing hero's quest with insights into the nature of violence. Rannoch develops from a curious fawn into a wise, talented and thoughtful leader, in whose 'hoofs was thunder.' He suffers terribly from doubts about his role, but takes action at the end. It's a great read that will make you see deer (and man) a little differently.

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