Ryan M. Oliver’s debut fantasy novel Soldiers of Fire is the first in a proposed five-volume series titled Beasts of Men and Gods. Lovers of J. R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, and other classic fantasy authors will love the world-building, adventure, and humor reflected in every page of this incredible epic.
The story opens when an elderly man named Nestor has a terrible dream of war coming to Ruxar, a continent made up of five kingdoms which have lived in peace for as long as anyone can remember. Nestor soon meets the warrior, Aedan, whom he foresaw in his dream, and manages to convince him that war is coming to the town of Brédon where they are both strangers. Sure enough, the neighboring kingdom of Hydraria attacks the town, to everyone’s astonishment. In creating a resistance, Nestor and Aedan soon establish themselves as leaders in fighting the enemy, and along with another warrior, Aloysius, they become known as the “Soldiers of Fire.”
From there, Oliver goes on to tell an enthralling story of secrets and revelations. At first, no one can believe that war has come to Ruxar. Characters travel to Brédon themselves to witness what has happened to the town. Nestor, Aedan, and Aloysius commit themselves to spreading the word to the other kingdoms about the Hydrarians’ hostilities, but they find it difficult to convince anyone of the dangers.
Oliver deftly handles multiple subplots that arise as the Soldiers of Fire go their separate ways to warn Ruxar’s people of the danger. Intermixed with their stories are scenes that gradually reveal the nefarious plans of Ulysses, King of Hydraria, and the motivations that drive him-motivations that are religious at their source-and shocking to the other characters as they are gradually revealed.
Add to this mix of chaos and war a series of incredible mythical beasts who are everyday reality in Ruxar and you are in for an exhilarating adventure. Each kingdom in Ruxar is linked to one of these powerful beasts-the manticore, the hydra, the cerberus, the gargoyle, and the dragon. The people of those lands-some more than others-have taken on many of the characteristics of these beasts. Gargoyles have prophetic visions, and hence, Nestor of Gargolia can see visions. Aedan is of Dragonia, and slowly, he realizes dragon-like qualities are awakening in him. These animal traits are little more than hinted at for some of the characters, but their inherent tendencies will likely be evolved in future books.
Finally, throw in an evil warrior princess who likes to be known as “Blade Maiden” and you have plenty to love, including characters you love to hate.
The conclusion had me on the edge of my seat as it hinted at the great revelations yet to come in the series. Fortunately, at the end, Oliver provides a sneak peek into the first chapter of Book 2: Forgotten Fathers to whet our appetites.
Soldiers of Fire is the start of what looks to be an incredibly entertaining journey through a fantasy world like none created before. If you love Game of Thrones, Greek mythology, or just an escape from the real world, you’ll love this new series.