Hugh,The Southern Flame by R.J. Tolson
Hugh,The Southern Flame by R.J. Tolson is a young-adult novel, and is the second book in the Chaos Chronicles series. In Evos, R.J. Tolson has created a world of scattered city-states, with Burst City striving for dominance. The city leaders exercise control by the use of Burst agents, which possess super-powers, though not all powers are of the same type or to the same degree. Some agents are espers, and others use a power called “aura”. and they all are sent on missions to the dangerous landscape surrounding Burst City. But city leaders feel most threatened by the Nios Crystal, a super-weapon that even controls fear itself. Aodhfin was perhaps the best and most powerful of all Burst agents, who held the top rank out of five levels. He once managed to find the Nios Crystal, but he later lost it and was punished by banishment.I selected this book from the reading list: Cheap Kindle Books. See the author interview for R.J. Tolson here.
Hugh, Aodhfin’s seventeen-year-old son, knows little of his notorious father and seems to have inherited little of his extraordinary power. As the tale begins, he is completely untrained, and holds perhaps a level one pyrokinesis rating, if that. Nevertheless, he is deemed to have some esper potential, and is sent from his village to Burst City to begin agent training. He hopes to find refuge from the abuse he had been receiving, resulting from his father’s failure, but finds that persecution follows him. Still, he is determined to succeed and redeem his family honor, even at the risk of his life.
By: Moyan Brenn
Characters and Setting
The tale is a hero’s quest and a coming-of-age story, as Hugh faces numerous challenges, betrayals, and adventures, with the Nios Crystal as the ultimate goal, seemingly always just out of reach. The point-of-view is always that of Hugh, which certainly engages the reader with his character. He is helped on his quest by Thora, a leader of one of the wasteland villages, Wyse,who acts as a mentor to help him develop his powers, and Oberyn, a figure of great wisdom. The plot is fast-paced and leads the reader to a powerful conclusion.
Descriptions of the landscapes through which Hugh travelled were effective in setting a mood, and emphasizing that the story is set in a strange and often eerie land.
I couldn’t help but notice the sunlight as it reflected off the large lake surrounding us entirely. With most of the forest still dark, as the trees blocked out the majority of the sunlight, the lake itself looked almost as if it were entirely separate from the rest of the forest. Small fish, roaming wet lizards, and the periodic wolf taking a sip of the water made everything seem so peaceful. Dream Forest during the day truly gave off a different feeling than it did at night.
This is a second part of a series. But it was refreshing in that it is not necessary to have read the first book to appreciate the story. It stands on its own quite well, and the ending leaves the reader wanting more.
The pacing and plot are innovative, creative, and relentless, reminding one of a video game. The numerous scenes of battle, against foes of increasing strength and almost-supernatural power, are exciting page-turners. Hugh is an engaging character, and the other characters are vivid and believable. The book is designed to appeal to the younger generation of readers, and seems to fit the genre exceptionally well.
What Did Not Work
There are a few rough spots in the narrative arc. At one point, Hugh finds that he has been betrayed and decides to fundamentally shift his focus. This could have been a powerful scene, but the effect was blunted by Hugh’s almost-unreflective attitude. Some of the scenes of battle were hard to visualize because so much was happening all at once. On occasion, Hugh seemed to find a new super-power just when he needed it. It helped him survive a series of almost-impossible predicaments, but the result was a loss of suspense. It often seemed too easy. The reader is likely to anticipate that Hugh will always find a new capability, and, sure enough, he usually does. One example is the nathair.
The snake, which stood over fifty feet tall, was thick—its body was as wide as five full-grown muscular men. Reflecting sunlight off its skin, it almost seemed to shine. It was barely opening its mouth, but I could already tell it had four massive fangs equaling my own height at least as its tongue whizzed in and out of its mouth, making a hissing sound.
Hugh is able to call on new-found skills to defeat the snake, but the event seems to be strangely out of sequence. He is able to defeat a snake as big as a house with one blow, but later has great difficulty defeating other lesser foes. It would have seemed more logical to have saved the nathair encounter for much later in the narrative when Hugh had greatly enhanced powers.
This kind of tale is not often one rich in character development and growth. Though Hugh and his friend Kalos do show increasing maturity and capability, the same cannot be said for most of the other characters. Not a major fault, perhaps, since this is a tale of action, not introspection. Having said that, Hugh must continually overcome his inner fears, which is a constant theme of the book.
The book does have some minor editorial issues, mostly involving incorrect punctuation and an occasional typo. These are not distracting nor do they diminish the reader’s enjoyment.
I enjoyed the tale and found it entertaining. It worked quite well as an engaging adventure. I rate it as a solid four-star novel, and recommend it to anyone that enjoys fast-paced quest with plenty of action.