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Chasing Fire    by Michelle M. Welch order for
Chasing Fire
by Michelle M. Welch
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2005 (2005)
Paperback, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Michelle M. Welch's third novel continues in the setting of The Five Countries, a 'created world with a long history and a range of cultures, where magic is hidden and gunpowder rules'. Sage Elzith Kar still sees a fire burning, the imminence of war and rebellions. There is still the question of the 'inner sins', which are somehow involved with the plague. With some characters carried forward from The Bright and the Dark, chapters in Chasing Fire go back and forth through the years and cast of the story. There's Tod, the blind bookmaster/binder of Biora; Cal Serinason, a refugee from another world; and Rindell Jorren, son of Tirn Jorren, Governor of Dabion.

The School of Bioran Science in Origh is a unique medical college, charged with seeking causes of the continuing plague. College professors are disappointed in their charge Rindell, whose father sees him as timid, with 'aimless ambition'. For three years, Rindell traveled Dabion with Aron Jannes, Circuit Justice for Mortality, filling notebooks with drawings of the anatomy of plague victims. Rindell is recalled from the college by his cold and frightening father. He learns that the governor has made a political alliance for him, to marry Adina of the Azassians, who suffers the menacing nightmares of insanity. Her father keeps her drugged. Rindell's mother died when he was young, and he finds a journal in her bedroom, with the words, 'I have married a man with no heart.'

Healers dress in shapeless white robes, men and women looking alike. Magi are wizards, differentiated by their magical abilities. They have the ability to cast spells, as well as to move and change things, whereas Sages move through things, like walls, and are untouched by wind or weather. So it is with Elzith Kar. She lives through her dreams, can pass through time, and can tell whether or not a person is lying. Elzith has consistent visions of 'a city burning, a search for faith and a quest for a solution to break the scourge on humanity'. The Sor' rai Bioran Gate is found open, and most of the Magi have left, but it is not known why. Hearing the voice of Amipal (who searches for a cure of the plague), Elzith must find him before the Magi do, before the plague spreads further, and before human history is lost in fire.

Michelle Welch draws in the reader with her splendid creation, interesting characters and imagination, in a dark fantasy driven by corruption, magic and mysticism, and the hope for freedom of those who have suffered years from oppression. I found it a challenging read - the blending of events and characters from chapter to chapter is like reading all different stories that do not connect. But I enjoyed seeing familiar characters from other books who are carried forward into this series. And the author's love and acumen for music is obvious and enthralling. Here's her 'Sage Song': 'We have crossed the river wide / rolling to the sea / we have left our lives there / Carried off into the sea / we have lost our lives there / we have crossed the current / We have lost ourselves to the sea'.

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