Dying Embers by Betty Adams
A review for Dying Embers was slipped under the door at One Book Two headquarters last night. This happens occasionally. We call the mysterious reviewer “The Phantom.” The Phantom usually has good book recommendations, so I decided to read Dying Embers myself. It’s a beautiful and touching story that, in my opinion, could have used some brutal editing to bring out this wonderful story even more.
Publisher’s Description: Dying Embers tells the story of Drake McCarty; a sixteen year old boy with more than a few challenges in his life. As if it wasn’t enough that he had begun seeing creatures that no one else could, he is suddenly thrust into the position of liaison to an alien race. He was just coming to understand that part of his life when he finds himself pronounced father to three Larian infants; embers. They are injured, frightened, and carrying a pathogen with the capacity to destroy any technology it contaminates. Bole and the rest of the mature aliens are of limited help; exiled from their home-world following a bloody civil war, they arrived on Earth in a burned out spaceship just as the Cold War began, and for over half a century the military kept them a closely guarded, rather boring, and ultimately unproductive secret. But when the other half of the conflict arrives, bent on continuing the war here on Earth Bole has no choice but to defend his new home and the family he has built here, leaving Drake to tend to the embers on his own. But Drake has other allies; a family with roots that stretch back into antiquity, and a reach that spans the world. They in turn know beings native to Earth, but far more alien than any of the Larians; creatures that hold no love for the species that they see as invaders, but might hold the key to his children’s very survival.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
The Phantom says…
I really liked your book. It had lots of interesting points in it to make you entranced with it. Your book was very well written and I could understand it for the most part. There was some parts in the beginning of the book that were slightly confusing with all of the characters and I was trying to sort them out. After that I understood it very well and it was a very good book that I enjoyed reading. I was mad at you for a couple of parts in the books involving the characters and I stopped reading for awhile, but I came back to it and finished it. I would be willing to read the next book too.
Dying Embers is, at its heart, a story about family, loss, and love. However, it is a bit of a “diamond in the rough” as there is so much extraneous story to sift through that the book can get confusing. I wonder if the book’s targeted audience — young adult readers — could or would stick it out to the end.
The Diamond: At the heart of the story is Ama, her half-brothers Drake and Donnigan, and their cousin, Emerald. Sometime in her early twenties, Ama’s mother, father, aunt, and uncle were killed when the car they were in went over a cliff. Though still in college, Ama fought to become the caretaker for young Drake, Donny, and Emerald. This strong sense of family and dedication, and the pain of loss, affects each of the characters deeply and becomes a major theme of the story.
In addition to the humans, there are several aliens in this family. Mirroring the loss of family in Ama and Drake’s life, the aliens have lost their home world and culture due to a civil war on their own planet. The aliens bond very closely to the human family, particularly the children. The relationship between the aliens and the humans is lovely; I was able to feel the strength of the bond among all the humans and aliens and admire that. Also, the aliens are crystalline in structure. I found this a unique and interesting difference that made for some colorful details.
The main story centers around Drake’s discovery of three infant aliens, called embers. These embers imprint on 16-year old Drake as their father. The infants were part of an experiment by one of the factions of the civil war, and thus their lives are in jeopardy. All the members of Ama and Drake’s family — human and alien — rally together to save the lives of these precious embers. Watching the infants grow and learn, and watching the humans and aliens react to them, is the beautiful and touching part of the story. I will freely admit I shed tears for the plight of the embers and ached with each of the characters who were fighting for the infants’ lives. This part of the book really shines.
The Rough: Perhaps my mind is not as facile as a young person’s anymore, but I did a lot of backtracking and took four pages of notes while reading this book just to keep characters and backstories straight. This is the part I think could be edited and streamlined — either by eliminating or consolidating details — so that the main focus of the story stands out clearly.
Details about the different factions of the alien civil war, plus a third rogue faction, and the impact the war has on Earth were sprinkled all throughout the book. I found myself with lots of questions in the beginning of the book, some of which didn’t get answered until close to the end and some of which aren’t answered even now. As a reader, I wonder if it would have been better to have a prologue that summarized the history of the civil war, a description of the different factions, and how the aliens in the story ended up on Earth, working with the military and living with Ama’s family. If not a prologue, some other mechanism for giving the reader this information earlier is needed. Having all this backstory up front would have helped allay some confusion for me, at least, and set the scene for the primary story.
Sixteen-year old Drake has apparently been doing work for the military as a liaison between humans and aliens. On one military mission, Drake was kidnapped by one of the alien factions — either the rebels or the rogues — and went through something traumatic. We don’t exactly know what happened to him ever, but again sprinkled throughout the story, the reader learns that he was interrogated and tattooed with nanobots and that after this event, he started exhibiting special powers and seeing “hallucinations.” At one point in the story, the effect of the embers’ condition threatens Drake’s life, apparently because of the nanobots in his tattoos. But we don’t know about the nanobots in the tattoos until this point in the story, so some of the drama is lost. There are other implications of this event that seem to be important to the story, but they are never foreshadowed, so they seem to come out of the blue.
Perhaps one reason for the lack of detail about Drake’s experience is that we rarely see Drake’s point of view in this story. While reading the book, I thought Ama was the main character since most of the human perspective in the book is hers. In was only in rereading the book description that I realized that Drake is supposed to be the main character. As a reader, I wonder if the balance of perspective should have been shifted onto Drake and off of Ama. That might have allowed more foreshadowing of his experiences and more preparation for his role as the father of the embers. It certainly would make more sense to have the main character be a young adult, since this book is geared toward young adult readers.
Finally, I had a little trouble at first reconciling the events at the end of the book with what I knew of the story to that point. Two primary agents in helping the embers are Zech, a Native American (I think) of the Franklin clan, and his probably-adopted brother, Sal, who is a sentient and quick-tempered semi-tractor (?!) with a prejudice against the aliens. Drake apparently met these two during his kidnapping. Zech and Sal use their connections in the Clan to draw on Native American (again, I think) healers, great river dragons, and a coyote spirit to assist the family. Oh, and a Raven spirit drops by. Suddenly this science fiction story has turned into a fantasy and I’m a left a little confused. Not that both magic and aliens can’t exist in the same story, but I think there could have been a little set up to smooth the transition. Ama and Drake’s mother and uncle were Native American, and his Irish father called him by a native nick-name (?); so, there might have been places to tie into the Native American magical culture; it just wasn’t done.
There are more things like this I could mention, but this review is already getting long. 🙂 In the end, I think there is a really great story here; but, I had to work pretty hard to focus on it. I don’t know if I would have worked that hard at reading a pleasure book if I weren’t reviewing it, and I fear not enough people, let alone young adults, will do so, either. That’s sad, because the diamond in this story is pretty dang shiny; it just needs a really good editor to dig it out and polish it up.
If you like this book…
Not being a big reader of young adult, I’m having a hard time choosing a similar book to recommend. I think I’ll have to fall back on a classic I loved as a kid (and still do!): A Wrinkle in Time and its companion novels by Madeline L’Engle.