A Vision of Fire introduces us to Caitlin O’Hara, a child psychologist who specializes in working with victims of political upheaval. Caitlin quickly becomes involved with the teenaged daughter of an Indian delegate to the United Nations, who is experiencing a psychological crisis that immediately has strong overtures of demonic possession. Caitlin discovers that other young people around the world are having similar unexplainable experiences as her patient. Her investigation quickly takes her from the medical to the supernatural, and much of the internal tension of the story deals with her struggle to accept the inexplicable nature of phenomena she is at first just witnessing, then later directly experiencing herself.
The central plot is surrounded by a worldwide crisis between the nuclear powers of India (with the obvious connection to the main victim Caitlin is working with) and Pakistan. We have political intrigue, the threat of assassins, and a secret organization with nefarious intentions. It’s initially unclear what cause and effect these various side plots might have on our central mystery, and not all of these strings are tied up in this “Episode One” book.
Caitlin’s character make-up is riddled with its share of tropes. She’s a single mother. She’s having trouble finding the time to date, what with all the demands of her career and single-parenting. (Although, she’s conveniently able to set off at the drop of a hat to remote reaches of the planet.) Those same demands are causing tension between her and her son. She has a platonic, always accessible, male friend who from the very beginning is obviously going to become a love interest. Tropes aside, I like Caitlin very much and enjoyed spending some time in her head. She is intelligent, observant, and empathetic. She doesn’t waste time bemoaning her circumstances. She doesn’t expect others to do things for her. She is determined and self-sacrificing.
The scope of Vision is planet-wide, and Anderson and Rovin do a very nice job of ensuring we don’t feel tied down to one locale or with a limited group of people. They manage to weave in a nice mix of diversity into the supporting cast of characters. We experience a wide variety of ethnicities, age groups, and even disabilities. All of this diversity is treated in a straightforward, unassuming way that is very refreshing.
I generally approval of love connections in pretty much anything, but I’m not convinced the “love interest” story line in Vision needed to be there. The romantic and sexual tension between the characters is under-cooked and only serves to make the male character’s participation in the plot seem more arbitrary.
A Vision of Fire is, in terms of story construction, somewhat difficult to pin down. On the one hand, I was carried all the way through the book, my curiosity always piqued, the tension levels steadily building. The writing style was engaging and sophisticated. On the other hand, it felt like the plot development was simultaneously suffering from ungrounded leaps in logic and a generally sluggish momentum. There was an overwhelming amount of psychological tension, but little in the way of physical threat. Ultimately, I think the book suffers from basically being a long prologue to action that will come in the sequels of the series. Even the final climax in Vision ends up feeling like a set-up for things to come. Not necessarily bad in terms of having something to look forward to, but it made for a slower experience this time around.
In terms of the audiobook narration, Gillian Anderson’s performance was very deftly handled, if a little slow-paced for my ears. She maneuvers the multiple genders, age groups, and accents without overstepping into caricatures. Her tone remains quite somber, however, which is somewhat in keeping with the suspense nature of the story, but doesn’t do much for keeping up the energy level of her audience.
It’s significant that I had just given up on two other books immediately before selecting A Vision of Fire. I was in a hyper-critical mindset and stayed with Vision largely because I found the story concept intriguing and the characters engaging. I have a significant degree of hope that the subsequent installments in this series (A Dream of Ice is targeted for December of this year.) will take the audience into some truly “out there” places.
I want to believe.