the Little Red Reviewer

The Black Fire Concerto, by Mike Allen

Posted on: August 13, 2013

Black Fire smallThe Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen

published June 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the author

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On a filthy and horrifying Riverboat, young Erzelle has learned to stay hidden. So long as she plays her harp during dinner and stays small, there’s a chance she might stay alive.  Every night the guests arrive, and every night a mutated ghoul from the holds below becomes dinner. Erzelle will never forget her first night on the Riverboat, when it was her parents on that silver platter, their heads still alive.

One evening, a beautiful human woman is a dinner guest. Erzelle fears the woman will become dinner, but instead she joines Erzelle on stage to accompany her with a magical pipe that glows with runes. By dawn, the guests have been run off or slaughtered, Erzelle has been freed from bondage, and the beautiful woman, Olyssa, has realized her lost sister is nowhere to be found on the Riverboat.

Thus begins Mike Allen’s debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto. Exploding with magic, music, and violence, this short novel has the magical feel of an old school suspenseful fantasy adventure as filtered through the eyes of H.R. Giger.

Olyssa takes the orphaned Erzelle under her wing, and the two travel the wasted Earth searching for Olyssa’s sister. Along the way, she teaches Erzelle a concerto for harp and pipe and the child unwittingly becomes the sorcereress’s apprentice. Erzelle came to the Riverboat as a small child, she knows very little of the outside world, and all she saw on board were ghouls and horrors.  She and Olyssa escape a Temple of Grey Ones, befriend the vulpine Reneer, and through visions of an Antlered Man, Erzelle becomes dangerously involved in Olyssa’s family heritage.

Where did the Grey Ones come from? What’s their connection with the Vulpine community nearby? Who is the antlered man who Erzelle keeping seeing in her minds eye? She can’t possibly understand what he’s asking of her. The gift he gives her will save her life as it slowly kills her.

The magic system in The Black Fire Concerto is the music created by specific instruments while in a specific mindset. When it’s the music that’s making your magic, there’s a timing issue at play. Think about a musical note, a bow against a violin string, the flutter of breath through a flute, the plucking of a harp string. When the bow is removed, the breath spent, the air done vibrating you are left with a deadly silence.  When the songs ends, it’s time to die.  No matter what, Erzelle can’t stop playing the music Olyssa taught her.  Harp in hands or no, she can’t stop creating the sounds.

The Black Fire Concerto is  short and riveting, intensely and shockingly violent. Allen’s dark imagery includes temples and catacombs made of thousands of bones and body parts, clockwork machines that run on vertebrae and brain matter, and Olyssa quickly dispatches anything and everything that gets in her way. This is a woman you do not want to piss off! I never completely got grossed out, but you may not want to be reading this while you are eating.

My only complaint of The Black Fire Concerto is it’s short length. At less than 200 pages, there is very little time for world building. There are plenty of hints of where we are, but how did this place get to be this way? Reneer is such a great character, he gets  the best dialog in the book and I’d have loved to learn more about him and his community’s awful relationship with the Grey Ones. More of Olyssa’s family background would have been appreciated as well.  The fact that I have questions, that I want to know more, means that Mike Allen succeeded in his mission to give me a complete story that made me crave more from him. I can only hope he continues writing in this world, or expands the short novel into something longer.

If you’ve got a strong stomach and want a story with a unique magic system, give The Black Fire Concerto a try.  Allen is under the radar, but he shouldn’t be.

The Black Fire Concerto is available in print or on kindle at Amazon.

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17 Responses to "The Black Fire Concerto, by Mike Allen"

I’m so looking forward to this!

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you are gonna love it!

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I was expecting this to be some sort of goth-loli urban fantasy muck-up, but instead I now want to read it. The author should be happy to know that your review is a quick and efficient mind changer.

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yeah, that very pretty (at least to my eyes) cover art has ZERO to do with what’s inside. I’m actually kinda conflicted about that, because I’m very affected by cover art, and expect it to have some connection to what’s inside.

but if he used realistic cover art it would be really, really disturbing.

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Exactly – more was needed. I think this would make a great series and I would definitely enjoy reading more of Reneer – he surely does have all the great dialogue.
Lynn :D

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I loved how Erzelle had all these ideas about what Reneer’s hometown should have been like that, and it was the complete opposite of what she was expecting. He’s definitely got more of a story to tell!

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Great. Another book to add to Mount TBR. Thanks.

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it’s OK, cuz I only put the really good books on your TBR. :)

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Ooo sounds pretty cool. Thanks for mentioning it.

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[…] behind the Little Red Reviewer blog takes on my first novel, The Black Fire Concerto, and has some really kind and downright awesome things to say about it: […]

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Never heard of this one — but it sounds like a great book!

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[…] Discovery blamed on: Little Red Reviewer […]

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This looks amazing, and I’m super excited to read it.

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[…] seeing glowing reviews at The Little Red Reviewer, Lynn’s Book Blog, and Just Book Reading, I knew I had to read The Black Fire Concerto.  […]

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[…] seeing glowing reviews at The Little Red Reviewer, Lynn’s Book Blog, and Just Book Reading, I knew I had to read The Black Fire Concerto.  […]

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[…] Fire Concerto, because of course I would. In all fairness, Andrea Johnson, who organized this one, has read the novel. She had to know what I was going to contribute.   In the second, “When Genre Intersects […]

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