Silk Fire, Review

by Benjamin Williams

Posted on 31st May 2022

Silk Fire, Review

Silk Fire by Zabé Ellor, is a bold new fantasy story set in a planet-sized matriarchal city where magic and technology freely bleed together.

The story follows Koreshiza (Kore) Brightstar, a courtesan of the war district on a quest for vengeance against his aristocrat father. A quest that draws him into an ancient struggle between dragons, necromancers, and his home district’s violent history. He wants revenge for all the injustices heaped on him by his father by any means necessary.

Silk Fire

Sounds intriguing, right? How about a story that also flips gender roles so that women are the dominant sex? Don't go thinking this is just because they can or to be "woke". There's a brilliant paragraph in the second half of the book that perfectly explains why in this world, women have become the rulers. Not every world needs to be male-dominated.

Main character Kore accidentally wakes a sleeping god and becomes imbued with an ancient power that allows him to transform into a dragon. That puts his life in much more danger than it already was as everyone wants to own a dragon - why wouldn't you? The problem though is how long Kore can keep it a secret considering whenever he gets stressed he starts developing dragon scales on his arms as he fights back transforming.

Enter Ria, who is by far the best character in the book. She's always there, accepts Kore for who he is as a person and when she discovers he's the dragon that everyone is after doesn't get phased. She's not perfect as she's a secret alcoholic but other than one incident near the beginning, it doesn't cause much of a problem.

Then there's Faziz, who becomes part of a throuple with Kore and Ria. He's not that likeable as he lies a lot and holds secrets, but he does seem to care for Kore and accepts that if he wants to be with him then it's as a throuple with Ria. His constant switching of allegiances throughout doesn't make him endearing at all and just leaves you wondering just what he has to actually do to make Kore dislike him. Because he surely does enough!

There is a lot of world-building through the first half of the book. So much so that it slows the progress of the story down, but that's okay where it's essential. This isn't Earth and things are different so bits need explaining. At times though it feels rather clumsy. The ideas and some of the details are great though. The whole thing feels unique, full of ideas that could create some wonderful stories.

What disappointed though was the romance and that's a huge part of the book. Kore and Ria seem to just fall in love out of nowhere, even accepting that they barely know each other at one point. Kore and Faziz were more of a slow burner compared to Kore and Ria, but Kore how Kore can keep bringing Faziz back into the fold is beyond me and didn't make much sense other than showing how desperate for love Kore is.

Other than Ria, there's sadly not another likeable character. Kore is just desperate for love and becomes annoying. Faziz doesn't know what side he's on and betrays people repeatedly The rest are mean or just completely awful people. Actually, I take that back. Ria's dad came across as a likeable character but he was barely in it.

And fair warning - there are a lot of graphic sex scenes. At one point my partner read a bit over my shoulder and asked me if I was reading porn. Some of it added nothing at all to the story. Some progress it as the characters used sex as a bargaining tool/weapon/torture.

Ellor's writing is a mixed bag. There are some wonderfully written parts that show a true talent for storytelling. But there are also quite a few parts that were quite hard to follow. Too many times I had to go back and read a part again because I was thinking "what? Have I missed something?" Subject and locations seem to suddenly switch with no transition. 

The whole thing left me wishing that the book lived up to the ambitions of the author. There's so much potential here not just in the story but clearly in the writing as well. As it is though, the world-building is good and the characters let it down massively. Parts were confusing and meant re-reading some parts again because I just felt lost. It's hard to really recommend, but you can see what Ellor was going for and at times their talent for writing shines through.

Rating: 3/5