Chasing Embers by James Bennett
There’s nothing special about Ben Garston. He’s just a guy with an attitude in a beat-up leather jacket, drowning his sorrows in a downtown bar. Or so he’d have you believe.
What Ben Garston can’t let you know is that he was once known as Red Ben. That the world of myth and legend isn’t just a fantasy, as we’ve been led to believe. And he certainly can’t let you know the secret of what’s hiding just beneath his skin…
But not even Ben knows what kind of hell is about to break loose. A centuries-old rivalry has just resurfaced, and the delicate balance between his world and ours is about to be shattered.
I love that moment when a book clicks. When you’re reading an author’s work for the first time, and suddenly you just get it. There is always the little frisson of panic whenever an author is an unknown quantity. Will I enjoy their work or will it be for someone else and not for me? Within a handful of pages I knew without question that James Bennett was going to be an author whose work I was going to enjoy.
‘Red’ Ben Garston is a complicated soul. I’m going to try avoid any major spoilers, that’s part of the fun with Chasing Embers. Suffice to say, as you read the book you’ll realise very swiftly why this is the case. Let’s just say, Ben has been around for quite a while and when it comes to his chequered history it is often difficult to separate the fact from the fiction. Ben’s unique perspective has left him with lots issues and more emotional baggage than you would wish to shake a pointy stick at. When we first meet him he is all but burnt out. Living an idle existence in New York, he spends his days bemoaning his lot and drinking as much Jack Daniels as he can get his hands on. This bitter exterior barely hides the fact that he is in a state of constant inner turmoil. His love life is a mess, his personal relationships are a shambles and he is wallowing in self-pity. Should Ben just rollover, accept his fate and allow himself to be confined to legend, or should he fight for his right to exist? Does he have as much right as anyone else to find a little bit of happiness and contentment?
Ben wears his heart on his sleeve, and when you read his description, it is easy to visualise someone whose emotions play across their face. He is a real credit to James Bennett and his skill as a writer. Bennett makes Ben such an interesting and layered character. Lesser authors may have struggled bringing this complex creation to life, but Bennett manages this tricky task with aplomb. ‘Red’ Ben Garston feels well-rounded and fully fleshed out. His sense of melancholy feels palpable. It was so easy to empathise when Ben fells pain or anger. Impressive stuff when you realise this is a debut novel.
For every hero there has to be a villain, and in Ben’s case there is a veritable rogue’s gallery. His longevity has ensured he has managed to upset all manner of various groups and mystical forces throughout the years. Primary amongst them are a trio of rather nasty witches who would like nothing better than to see Ben destroyed. There is also a secret society whose sole purpose is to reclaim an item that Ben was responsible for them losing. How can they reclaim this item? Killing Ben of course. Our erstwhile hero wants nothing but a quiet life, but all these other magical types are keen to deny him that.
The good news is that Ben is not entirely alone. From time to time he is helped, and sometimes hindered, by a flamboyant character know as Blaise Von Hart. Calling the two friends might be stretching things a bit far. Let’s just say when you are one of the few long lived beings on the planet, you are going to get to know your contemporaries. Von Hart’s origins are also quite key to the plot so I’m not going to dig into them too deeply. I think the thing I liked most about Von Hart is that he is the polar opposite of Ben. He embraces his uniqueness in the grand scheme of things. Whilst Ben hides himself away, Von Hart does quite the reverse. I’m hoping there will be more from him in future novels?
There is a nice international flavour to events as the action moves from the streets of New York, to London and then onwards to Egypt. You get a real sense that what is transpiring has the potential to be world changing. Ben holds the fate of our world in his hands. Chasing Embers acts as the perfect beginning to this much larger story.
Before I forget. My musical recommendation to accompany Chasing Embers is …Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age. The reasons for this particular choice will become quite obvious when you read the book.
Ok, I know I’ve danced around a lot of the content in this particular review but this is entirely deliberate. As I mentioned before, there are some key points in this novel that you really need to discover yourself. I can assure you that your enjoyment will only be increased when you happen upon these revelations. All you really need to know is that Chasing Embers is great. Not only is there some rock solid world-building going on, but Bennett also leaves just enough questions unanswered to ensure his audience will be hungry for more. Blending together the best of action, adventure and urban fantasy, I reckon Chasing Embers is going to be one of my highlights for 2016. This is a cracking tale, well told, and with the promise of more to come. I’ll be honest, I can’t wait to see where this goes next. Oh and can someone please adapt this for the screen? Immediately would be ideal. Thanks.
Chasing Embers is published by Orbit and it available now. Highly recommended.