REVIEW: The Fire Within Them by Matthew Ward

In The Fire Within Them by Matthew Ward, Kat’s story of survival, rebellion, and love and loss that I enjoyed so much in The Darkness Before Them continues. These main themes remain in book two, with strong new themes of duty and redemption playing key parts. Ward has also done something I absolutely love in fiction, turning secondary characters into primary characters and using those people to explore more of the world he has created in book one of The Soulfire Saga as we follow Kat and her crew trying to overthrow an undead king who has the people of Khalad firmly beneath his fiery boot heel.

Before you continue reading about The Fire Within Them, be wary that this review contains one key spoiler for book one.

In The Fire Within Them, Kat tries to save her mother from her father, boarding a land train to stop her mum from being shipped to a quiet little outpost and killed so her father could play the grieving lord and move on with his life. And she must do so without her tattoo to manipulate the spirits around her while her body begins to betray her. In the attempt, she discovers her sister is not as claimed by the Deadwinds as she first thought …

Damant accompanies Rima, his ageing warrior diplomat character an interesting juxtaposition against a warrior a hundred thousand years old being stalked by the only killer Damant ever witnessed capable to standing against Rima’s sword and preternatural combat abilities.

Vanquished villain in The Darkness Before Them, Tanith is a powerful demon-infused character trying to figure her life out after being released by the Deadwinds, rejected again by her parents, and finding that while she’s certain her sister Kat should be punished, she’s not quite sure she should kill her anymore. All the while Tanith’s hunger to devour souls drives her every moment. For the grimdark fan, Tanith is the character most likely to hit your morally grey sweet spot as she finds a person capable–and willing–to help her … for a price.

Each of the POVs in The Fire Within Them lends significant weight to the reading experience. Kat and Tanith’s stories are the key foundation of the book, as Kat tries to save her mother and Tanith tries to save herself, and they both try to figure out how to be with each other. Kat retains her crew from the first book with Vallant and Yali still in play, and one previous character coming back into her life who she must decide if she’ll allow to return. Tanith is betrayed by everyone she knows. She is alone, and angry. And she is also desperate. A father figure finds her and gives her purpose, gives her a cause to get behind and teaches her how to control her hunger so she may be of use to his uprising.

A character who is given significant screen time through the eyes of Damant, is Rima. She is a mystery in book one, but gets a far more fleshed out story line in book two as Rima and Damant delve into the darkness below to face the calling of her grandfather and her people. Damant’s storyline is more about witnessing Rima’s life and tribulations than about his perspective, which I quite enjoyed as an approach to storytelling. There’s a part of me that wishes we didn’t unveil as much of Rima as we did in the book, as I quite enjoyed the mystery of her and the alienness of her character in The Darkness Before Them, but it was necessary for the expansion of the story into what I would deem a more epic lens, and for her partnership with Damant to have depth.

Ward really expands the world in The Fire Within Them. We jump into the world’s myth and legend brought to life with both feet. One of the key ways Ward does this is by leaning into the religion: its god, its story, and what the reality looks like versus the myths. If you wanted to know more about Nyssa, the Eternity King, and The Voice then buckle up for a trip to The Stars Below. The Stars Below gives us a view into one of the long lost layers of Khalad and looks past the lore known to our characters. This more religiously exploratory story aspect I quite enjoyed in some parts, and had to back track and re-read to make sure I understood in others.

The Fire Within Them is still stacked full of ifrit (people’s souls used to create movement and fire as part of trains, carts, guns, and lamps), and there’s plenty more of the terrifying undead koilos creatures. The feeling of the cities in this world being a bit like the hive cities of the Warhammer 40,000 universe remains, especially with the exploration of The Stars Below, and there is a general consistent claustrophobic feel to the story as we get deeper into the book that I think fans of that universe would enjoy.

The Fire Within Them ramps up the insights into this world by peeling back multiple layers of lore to give us a peek at the fiery underbelly. I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Darkness Before Them, but it was still an epic dark fantasy read with plenty for grimdark fans to stick their teeth into. Having seen Ward’s ability to bring home a series with his Legacy trilogy (Legacy of Ash, Legacy of Steel, Legacy of Light) I highly recommend picking up these books. I think book three will be a cracker.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.

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