Red Smoke Rising

12 January 2011

Red Smoke Rising
by Rick Anthony
Published by Basket Case Publishing
Review by Rudolf Sandmeier
$10.99 ISBN: 978-0-9866661-0-0

When I first heard of Rick Anthony’s Red Smoke Rising it was described to me as “a good rip of a read” and it did not disappoint. Each chapter is a rapid sequence of action-packed episodes and builds to a climax that takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride, zipping through its course.

There is always the risk in books that move at this pace that the reader could be simply overwhelmed by the plot. However, Anthony handles this element admirably and is able to keep everything rolling together quite smoothly. Somewhat conversely, another reason why the novel is successful is the economy of language Anthony employs – while he has a lot going on he doesn’t use an excess of words to describe the action. These two characteristics combine to benefit the novel as a whole – Red Smoke Rising clocks in at over 300 pages but it simply doesn’t feel that long when reading it. In the end, Anthony’s efforts have produced a well-balanced and efficient work.

We’re plunked down in the middle of the action as the novel begins and we soon learn that the story centers around a fictional island nation, Muoro, that has been invaded by the neighbouring Nor Empire. The reason for the invasion, which happens prior to the beginning of the book, revolves around control over a powerful drug called ku. Ku’s effects are enormous – to quote a character, “it gives undeserving men the power of the gods.” Those who take the drug can see “auras”, and are able to manipulate and change them, producing superhuman abilities. The story principally concerns Mia, a member of the resistance, who possesses the ability to shape-shift into different animals under the influence of ku. Through the course of the story, she learns to shift to a new form – that of a dragon. This ability makes her a vital asset to the resistance, known as The Underground, in their ongoing battle against the Myrmidons.

The main plot device in Red Smoke Rising is a drug (rather than an amulet or some other, more traditional, source of magic and sorcery). However, the use of ku is not a dominant theme. Rather, the major driving forces for plot development in this fantasy tale are the incredible side-effects of taking ku and the battle over possession of it as a commodity. Indeed, in the invasion by the Myrmidons over the precious ku, the conquered people of Muoro and their traditional way of life are fundamentally threatened and abused by invading forces in search of wealth and power. What’s more, the theme of a precious resource being the cause of international greed and conflict might just be a resonating echo of our own global village and certainly is something the contemporary Canadian reader would clue in on.

What we have here is a highly promising debut from an emerging Saskatchewan writer and publishing company that barely has the plastic wrap off. For those readers looking for a good yarn, with fast-paced action and a thrilling conclusion, then they need look no further than this title. A well-executed SciFi/Fantasy novel can be tough to beat for pure entertainment, and Rick Anthony’s Red Smoke Rising is a near-perfect crystallisation of that form.


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