The Story: A Vision of Fire, by “The X-Files” star Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin (co-author), is the first installment in a planned trilogy/series. This first book follows Dr. Caitlin O’Hara, a child psychologist, as she seeks to treat an Indian ambassador’s daughter. After a failed assassination attempt on her father’s life, Maanik endures psychotic episodes where she apparently enters another mental plane. But she isn’t alone. Around the world, other teens who have faced traumatic experiences are engaging in the same unexplained behavior. Treatment-wise, Dr. O’Hara has exhausted nearly every option except to pursue the fact that what Maanik and the others are facing is not just all inside their heads.
My Take: Books by celebrities, especially fiction, always catch my eye. I suppose my curiosity is driven by wanting to know if such persons can actually tell stories and create characters as opposed to just portraying characters on screen or television. To date, this is my second celebrity read with the first being Elixir by Hilary Duff (and, I assume, some uncredited ghost writer). Based on that experience, I had moderately low hopes for A Vision of Fire. But as it turns out, “X-Files” star Gillian Anderson and co-writer Jeff Rovin prove to be a good team.
For starters, A Vision of Fire is more of a psychological thriller with sci-fi and paranormal elements thrown into the mix. It was an interesting hybrid that definitely works, and I really can’t think of anything I’ve read that’s similar in terms of genre. I actually liked that about this novel, and it is certainly a cliffhanger that forced me to keep reading until I finished it. Also, you should note that this is the first book in a trilogy/series, so while it ends with some closure, it’s not entirely wrapped up. That was okay by me, but if you’re looking for a stand-alone read, be aware this isn’t it.
Plot-wise, it’s fairly basic but has multiple working parts, so to speak. What serves as the glue to hold all of the characters and the basic storyline together (i.e. why are teens around the world suddenly having, well, visions of fire) is certainly interesting. Likewise, the pacing is fairly solid and encourages you to keep reading. The chapters avoid being overlong, which I think contribute to the speed of the read. Lastly, in terms of characters, while they aren’t fleshed out as fully as what I normally like to see, they were still good. Not great, not memorable, but they were passable in terms of personality and dynamic and they got the job done without too many hiccups. The chief protagonist, Caitlin O’Hara, while she’s ultimately forgettable in the long run, is smart, brave, compassionate, and, hence, is easy to root for.
So, you go, girl!
That’s not to say A Vision of Fire is a sample of stellar writing. It’s not. The prose, much like what I found in Elixir, is simplistic and lacks any sense of depth in vocabulary or construction. Granted, it’s not so simple that it’s insulting, but this won’t challenge your mind in terms of writing style and mechanics. Likewise, the descriptions are fairly insipid and don’t fully bring to life the story’s settings, and the same holds true for the dialogue. Nothing here stands out as making the characters unique in the way they speak. Overall, execution-wise, this novel reads a bit like a creative writing class assignment only with better plotting and pacing. But in terms of mechanics, character development, dialogue, and description, it sorely lacks though it isn’t so bad that it’s cringe-worthy.
Another slight issue I took with the overall story was the ending.
No worries – I’m not going to delve into any spoilers. But if you’re not a fan of rapid-fire final scenes with swift solutions, then you might not be too keen on how A Vision of Fire wraps up prior to its epilogue. The ending skirts a bit too close to being a deus ex machina sort of ending where the big dilemma driving the entire plot gets wrapped up too neatly and quickly with a sudden, last-minute revelation coming to light to save the day, so to speak. On a positive note, it is a shocking twist and definitely possesses “X-Files” earmarks, but on a down side, it can seem a bit too dismissive compared to how the rest of the story is built up.
Overall, the real test for me regarding the first book in a series is whether or not I would try to read subsequent novels. And, to be fair, in the case of A Vision of Fire, I actually would read any follow up books. While this novel’s technical elements were a bit bland and left more to be desired, the story itself was a fun ride and worth sticking with to see where it all goes.
Language – Profanity usage was mild, sparse and, hence, easy to overlook.
Violence – The most overtly violent acts in the book are a murder and an assassination attempt that occur in the novel’s early portions. Otherwise, the scenes involving how the teens respond to their “visions” qualify more as disturbing than violent. During their mental episodes, the teens act as if they are having a seizure, drowning (on dry land), engage in self-harm, scream, or try to communicate with someone other than who is physically present. While this adds to the story’s suspense, it might bother readers sensitive to similar “possession” scenes (though the teens are not demonically possessed).
Sexual Content – Essentially none. There is a single-sentence mention that Dr. O’Hara had an affair that resulted in the birth of her son. Dr. O’Hara also asks if a patient was ever sexually assaulted or abused, to which the patient and her family truthfully answer no. One minor character, we’re told, is a homosexual but nothing ever occurs to depict this character’s lifestyle.
In the end, A Vision of Fire is not a literary masterpiece, but it at least avoids being a fluffy read that recycles old plot devices and stock characters. If you’re looking for a cool genre hybrid that will hold your interest with clever twists and turns, then this novel would be a good pick. Gillian Anderson will probably be better known for her work on “The X-Files” than as a novelist, but her debut novel is by no means a must-miss offering.