"We will eat the body and sanctify its blood, to let it be born again."
— The opening line of EVE: The Burning Life.
In late January I wrote a review of EVE: The Empyrean Age by Tony Gonzales. My review was less than favorable, and my initial plan to read the three books published about EVE in rapid fire-succession were dashed by my inability to muster up the will to pick up the second book. To recap the first review, skip The Empyrean Age unless you like exercises in frustration.
Having purchased all three books, however, I eventually managed to coax myself into reading the first few chapters of the next book. Since The Burning Life was written by Hjalti Danielsson—better known as CCP Abraxas—I reckoned I could give a different author a chance at telling a story set in the EVE universe. Keeping that in mind, I endeavored to keep my mind as open as possible, although I imagine I was in some way influenced by still having The Empyrean Age fresh on my mind.
My prior experience with the earlier EVE book partly explains why, when I finished reading The Burning Life, I was left with an overall positive impression. I could continue to make excuses and qualifications for my feelings, but ultimately I enjoyed The Burning Life when I did not enjoy The Empyrean Age.
A Couple Points of View
The narrative of The Burning Life centers on two different characters, Drem and Ralea. The chapters focus on one character perspective or the other, and the author uses the two characters to explore different parts of the galaxy. The story itself is ultimately about the two characters, the people they meet, the places they travel to, the trials they endure, and the choices they make. This is not a tale about political movers and shakers, or revolutionary and historic events. It is just a story about two people.
Truthfully, the book is really two different stories. Ralea is a wealthy mission agent burnt out from years of drug use, while Drem is a young man on a quest for revenge against a capsuleer who murdered his family. The two stories mix only at the very end of the novel, and I was completely unsurprised and underwhelmed by the way the Drem and Ralea were connected.
Ralea’s chapters are the weaker parts of the novel. Ralea herself is not a very sympathetic or relatable character, nor is she a particularly active participant in the events of the novel. She doesn't really need to be as nothing really happens in her part of the book except an unfortunate series of circumstances that require she leave one part of space and go to the next part of space. Reading Ralea’s chapters felt more akin to reading someone narrate a travel diary than a novel proper, and her personal journey didn’t really result in any apparent character development.
Drem’s chapters are much better. Drem has a clear purpose, complicated motivations, and a good character arc that develops over the course of the novel. The people he meets and the places he travels to among the pirate factions are more interesting than Ralea’s encounters in high-sec, and I felt that he grew and matured as the story progressed.
A Month of Reading
To The Burning Life’s credit, the novel avoids any serious pitfalls. I wasn’t blatantly or terribly offended at any point, and mercifully there wasn’t any out-of-place or infuriating deus ex machina that allowed for easy and convenient plot progression. The characters really did stand on their own devices.
This is probably why the book took me a month to read even though I’m by no means a slow reader. The last book I took a month to read was Anathem by Neil Stephenson, and the entire point of that book is that the tone is deliberate, methodical, dense, and even a little plodding. The Burning Life is no Anathem. I took a month to read it because I wasn’t really compelled to continue reading after I stopped at any given point. There was nothing that terribly grabbed me or motivated me to keep reading throughout the first half of the novel, particularly during the Ralea chapters.
I did eventually finish the book, and there was never a point I thought to myself I wouldn’t finish it because of any sort of active dislike. When competing for my time, The Burning Life was sometimes less interesting than many other options I had available.
The Burning Life is an okay book. It's no great piece of literature, but Danielsson wrote a good tale about a man named Drem that I personally enjoyed. People interested in EVE lore will find much of interest concerning the various pirate factions, and I enjoyed the fact that Drem himself is a Blood Raider and also the most sympathetic character in the entire book by a wide margin.
I would only tell readers to be aware that my harshest criticism is that The Burning Life is occasionally completely uninteresting and a little boring. If that isn’t any sort of deal-breaker, and you really enjoy the EVE universe, go read The Burning Life. At the very least, you could do much, much worse.