The Red Empress is the only home Erzelle has known since the day her family was lured aboard and murdered, victims of a grisly ritual meant to make the elite immortal. Erzelle plays her harp for the diners inside this ghoul-infested riverboat, knowing her own death looms, escaping through the music that's all she has left of her parents.
Her nightmare's upended in the space of a day by the arrival of Olyssa, a fellow musician, but so much more.
Erzelle is swept up in Olyssa's quest to find her ensorcelled sister Lilla, a journey across a mutated landscape that leads them to an enemy responsible for the deaths of millions. To stop the slaughter of countless more, the pair has no choice but to draw on the deadly magics that reshaped the world... a power that's as dangerous to its wielders as it is to its foes, that's killing Erzelle even as she fights to control it.
©2013 Haunted Stars Publishing (P)2014 Mythic Delirium Books
I recommend all of Mike Allen's books to friends, The Black Fire Concerto, audio version is a convenient way to carry the ghoulishness with you, taking the mundane out of the commute to work.
A young girl plays a harp beautifully while waiting to die a horrible death upon a ship where her parents have already met a grisly end; she thinks she may be 12 or 13 but she isn’t certain as the days have passed in gruesome horror, the chef feeding flesh, some still living, to his patrons. When a flutist boards, the girl expects her to simply become another course in the meal, but instead finds she is swept up in a journey that will bring new music, and greater powers than she ever imagined. Mike Allen’s novel, now in audio format, is a slightly sinister fantasy, out of this world’s realm.
Erzelle, the harpist, is rescued and befriended by Olyssa, the flutist, and becomes her apprentice, assistant, and duet accompaniment. The two become a force of power by using their music to create magic, destroy magic, and hopefully save the world. The goal is to find Olyssa’s sister who has become a dark and dangerous witch, and rescue her from herself. Ever since “the Storms,” the world has become a very different place.
This is not a typical post-apocalyptic after-life tale though. Now, most people are ghouls, not quite zombies, not quite aware of anything, but undying nonetheless. Other people try to eat the ghouls in order to garner the everlasting. There have been mutations of animal and human, change in the physical world and various alterations that are much beyond the vast genetic modifying that currently goes on in reality. And Olyssa’s sister is behind it all.
The characters are strong and deep, full of inner turmoil and conflict, leading the reader/listener to care about them and understand their motives; very human growth occurs, even in the fox-people. The plot thickens considerably and turns often, giving a wild fantasy ride through deepest caverns and riding high on flying horses. The reanimated bits of flesh, crawling around and teaming up in various forms of ghoulishness were fun and sweetly dark to me.
Allen has a talent for the descriptive, and an imagination that is downright scary. Of course, to him, that’s a compliment.
I regretted that the author did not read the book himself in this audio version, as I was distracted by the reader’s occasional misplaced inflections. I would have enjoyed the book all the more in the author’s enthusiastically haunting tone.
I enjoy listening to a good read. The right narrator can really add depth to a story with nuance and emotion.
I like Erzelle, i like to follow a lesser character as she gets swept into a grand adventure
he has a rich tone with a great variety in his vocal range
Her music is a savage beast
From the book's description, I thought the story was going to be a sort of vampire/undead apocalypse, with humans struggling to survive after the dead rise. But Black Fire Concerto is more original than that. At some point in the past (before the protagonist, Erzelle was born, but apparently within a generation), something transformed the world and ended civilization. Now clans of cannibalistic ghouls enjoy immortality by eating the flesh of other infected undead, but there are also other sorts of mutated creatures, sorcery, and strange psychic phenomenon.
Erzelle is twelve years old, kept as a "pet" by a ghoul family for her musical skills, knowing every night that they might, at any time, decide to kill her and eat her. Then another musician comes on board her riverboat - a tall, imposing woman named Olyssa. Olyssa has clearly been lured aboard to entertain her "hosts" and then become their next meal, but she turns out to have an impressive assortment of talents and special artifacts, and ends up freeing Erzelle after a dishing out gratifyingly bloody justice to her erstwhile hosts - women, children, and old men included.
Erzelle learns that Olyssa is on a quest to find and save her lost sister. The world they travel through, a post-apocalyptic North America by the clues given, has tribes of people mutated by magic, places where bones planted in the earth become animated undead, and various strange artifacts and creatures created by unknown forces. Erzelle turns out to have powers of her own, unleashed by her musical abilities, like Olyssa.
Their quest leads them, of course, to Olyssa's sister. The climax reveals a Big Bad who is responsible for the apocalypse in the first place, and ends somewhat open-ended, with obvious potential for a sequel.
This was a decent dark fantasy that is more original than your typical zombie/vampire apocalypse, with magic described as animated black fire and creatures constructed from flesh and bone. The story did take some predictable paths, and I felt like the dynamic between Erzelle, supposedly twelve but rarely acting like it, and her teacher Olyssa never really came alive in a way that would have made me more invested in their relationship and their fate. However, I would probably read the sequel if the description sounded interesting enough.
I did not much like the narrator, who read much of the story in a rather flat tone with predictable rising intonation that made me think of someone reading a bedtime story.
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