Let’s talk about Typhoon of Fire, the sequel to Call of the Conjurer.
This book was always in the back of my mind. At the very least, I had drafted some of the major plot points as early as 1999.
Another prequel before the Bloodfest series really begins, Typhoon of Fire is a notable mark in the lives of the leading characters in the series. New soldiers Ace Mcdagger, Shimon Akasone and Tiffany Milich have been through a lot more combat since their graduation in Call of the Conjurer, and have enjoyed a gentle, serene tour with Sierra Squad ever since.
But things had to change.
In retrospect, I would like to write more about the cast of Sierra Squad more. They get a brief look in during one of the Typhoon of Fire‘s flashback chapters, but the morose collective in November Squad and their head strong leader Captain Rafaella Loxwell were the more battered, despondent, colourful bunch to tell a story about. Newbies Ace and co – including plucky unlucky fellow “green” soldier Gill Pillson – are dropped into the ‘fire’ of the sweltering Malaysian wilderness and put to the test by their stern new captain.
Captain Loxwell is a marked change from Captain Mason in Call of the Conjurer. She is strict and intimidating, and doesn’t seem to understand the ‘fuss’ over Ace Mcdagger. He tries hard to impress, but not as hard as he should do. Tiffany shines at least; Captain Loxwell regards her highly as fellow woman in the military. It’s a highly pro-feminist attitude, and one I’m glad to encourage. Where Ace had Captain Mason beforehand, Tiffany is given a mentor in Captain Loxwell.
Several new components to the Bloodfest series lore are introduced in this book, including other branches of the Hidden Government Army and a better examination of the way Magic works. At the start of the story, November Squad have lost a large number of their team mates following an unprepared assault on black listed Hidden Government facility, only known as the “D” Laboratory. The blame for the failure is constantly passed around between the leading officers of November Squad and the higher command; the Air Force soldiers, who are introduced in this book as the secret armed force’s own “Eyes in the Sky”. The Air Force wield a lot of power and authority over the Ground Forces, which keeps November Squad as the respected underdogs. I love an underdog tale, and the Bloodfest series is full of them.
Ace’s desire to prove himself before Captain Loxwell is tested further with the introduction of his estranged cousin (or should that be strange cousin) Damian Hassler. The young lad is a handful. He’s arrogant, destructive, disobedient, and perhaps even insane; but he looks up to Ace as an older brother. It’s a new dynamic, creating a great duo pairing to coincide with Ace and Shimon, and Shimon and Tiffany.
In fact “duos” is a major theme of Typhoon of Fire. Close bounds form the story together, from friends, lovers, comrades and rivals. All the characters meet their match both good or bad in this book. Ace stresses over Damian, the lovers Shimon and Tiffany face relationship turmoil as they juggle duty and romance, Loxwell and her trusted ally Lieutenant Bordestein keep each other grounded. Even the villains and their motivations are driven by the common theme of “duos”. Trying to spot them all in the story will take some time.
The other major theme of the book is Hell – fire and discomfort, suffering and tragedy. The river journey early on was the first part of the book I wrote, as a starting point for the visuals: the general colour palette and mood I wanted for the book. There’s a lot of orange haze and burned out decay, in-between scenes of vibrant green life. Admittedly I was heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now and other Vietnam war films for the setting – which in turn was based on the book Heart of Darkness. The Kalimantan region of Malaysia is beautiful and wild, but also dangerous and unfamiliar. When draped in a constantly fire scorched sky, it can be quite a daunting landscape. The jungle setting of the Kalimantan is also a far cry away form the clean comforts of Myrtle Beach in Call of the Conjurer. In the Kalimantan the soldiers are truly living – surviving – day to day on rations and requiring to be on guard at all times.
Malaysia is not the only backdrop to the story. The cast venture off all over the world, reaching as far as Canada, New York, Warsaw, and the Huayna Potosi mountain range in Bolivia. These soldiers do get around.
There’s another theme throughout the book – life, and whether ‘Life’ is always a wondrous miracle. Sometimes ‘Death’ may be the kindest alternative, but I’ll leave this interpretation to the readers. I’m not inciting an anti-life movement here, but I enjoy a skewed look on the world.
A sequel needs to raise the stakes, but this book is still a prequel to what is to come. The main cast are still young and inexperienced, and their adversaries need to be a raised threat, but still not as bad as what may come in the future. Juggling this balance was an interesting challenge. The immediate antagonists; the mad scientist Dr Weiss and traitorous witch soldier Nathan Edgrech, are only human despite their dangerous capabilities. Dr Weiss is a man spoken about in legend, and Edgrech stirs nothing but contempt among his former comrades. He’s sick in the head and deviously cruel, but he can only fight dirty, which shows how much of a coward he is.
Even the early monsters encountered; the Mirezyns and Towermen, are relatively docile and easy to defeat. It’s when the story reaches a point-of-no-return around chapters 16 and 17 that the stakes are unevenly raised, and by chapter 20 all hell is literally breaking loose. The encounters are more visceral, mixing science, nature and magic in ways it should not. If Call of the Conjurer seemed tame on the horror aspect, Typhoon of Fire kicks it up a notch. It kicks its teeth out.
Overall, Typhoon of Fire is a story about challenge and change. There are several moments for the characters to take a breather away from the battlefield and relax. There are always moments of light comedy throughout (and some moments of dark comedy), but things tend to get harder before they get any better, and there is a tremendous tonal shift by the end of the story. I’m proud of how it came out, and preliminary reviews say it is better than Call of the Conjurer.
For the full experience, you’ll just have to read on.