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Complete The Undying Fire series by Boogum - T - A:tLA

Discussion in 'Almost Recommended' started by Othalan, Feb 25, 2020.

  1. Othalan

    Othalan Unspeakable DLP Supporter

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    Title: The Undying Fire series
    Author: Boogum
    Rating: T
    Genre: Adventure/Friendship
    Status: Complete
    Length: 581,562 words spread across 5 books
    Pairings: Primary is a VERY slow burn Zuko/Katara. Several other secondary pairings.

    Book 1 - The Undying Fire: Blood and Fire (51,439 words)
    Summary: In which rescuing the Avatar from Pohuai Stronghold doesn't end so well. It's a tough life being a banished prince trying to get home, especially when the Avatar just wants to be your friend and keeps making everything confusing. Oh, and did Zuko mention he somehow healed the kid? Yeah, that happened.

    Book 2 - The Undying Fire: Truth and Lies (151,240 words)
    Summary: The scarred boy is found alone and half dead. All he has on him is a knife, a Pai Sho tile, and a bit of parchment with a riddle on it. He thinks he might have been searching for someone, and the wound on his shoulder and the fear prickling his heart tells him he was running from something. The problem is that he doesn't remember. He doesn't remember anything.

    Book 3 - The Undying Fire: City of Secrets (207,270 words)
    Summary: It started with a battle for the Outer Wall. It ended with blood and a blackened throne. Ba Sing Se changed all of them, for better or worse.

    Book 4 - The Undying Fire: The Silencers (95,159 words)
    Summary: Zuko sets out with the Gaang to rescue his mother, but things get complicated when another fire healer shows up. Now he has to figure out who to trust and how to survive.

    Book 5 - The Undying Fire: Balance (76,454 words)
    Summary: One seeks to consume the world in fire, the other to control it with bonds. When destiny calls, all Zuko and Aang can do is try their best to follow.

    First of all , I must confess that I haven't finished this series yet (I am currently on Book 4, Chapter 4). But after checking DLP on a whim and finding no mention of this one anywhere, I decided it definitely needs to go up for review on the merits of what I've read so far.

    Basically this starts as a Season 1 for-want-of-a-nail AU where during their escape from Pohuai Stronghold, rather than Zuko taking an arrow to his Blue Spirit mask and getting knocked out, the arrow hits Aang in the chest, leading to Zuko accidentally discovering that he has the ability to heal with his bending. For those of you getting traumatic flashbacks to Vathara's "Embers", don't worry. Aside from the superficial similarity of the basic fire-healing concept, this fic has almost nothing in common with "Embers".

    At its heart, this is essentially a "Zuko (and Iroh) join the Gaang early" fic, but one that is handled very well, imo. The writing (particularly from Book 2 on) is usually of publishable quality. The characterizations and character arcs are very well done, especially Zuko, Azula and Aang. While the first two books have a heavy angsty!Zuko vibe, nothing is particularly out of character, and by the last quarter of book 2, Zuko has mostly gotten his shit together emotionally, and is much less of a grumpy bastard all the time.

    The AU starts out slow, and the first book (and parts of the second) can feel like a bit of a canon-rehash at times, but the changes add up in ways that feel mostly believable and true to the source material. Then the Ba Sing Se arc covered in Book 3 diverges pretty radically from canon almost immediately in super-twisty convoluted ways that are pretty fun and mostly feel like something that could have happened in the show (with the exception of the gradual ramp-up of violence and more mature themes that the show never really touched on in any depth).

    As for the pairings, Boogum has rather deftly dodged the fanfic cliche of the "One True Love" pairing where the characters lose all interest in any other options, just because. The main pairing is listed by the author as Zuko/Katara, though it is very, very slow to develop. Nothing remotely romantic occurs between them until the End of Book 3/Beginning of Book 4 (and even then its still slow and fairly innocent). But it feels organic and unforced, which I really appreciate. There are several side pairings involved, though most are only hinted, and even the ones that aren't are coming along fairly slowly. Some of the secondary pairings, especially the ones that are only hinted as possibilities, are unusual almost to the point of falling into crack! territory (possible Iroh/Joo Dee, anyone? Trust me, makes WAY more sense with the backstory Boogum gave this fic's Joo Dee). In the end though, the pairings are not that big of a deal. They complement the storyline, without ever becoming the main focus of that storyline.

    Things I Like About This Series So Far (Major Plot Spoilers!):
    1) Azula. SO MUCH! Really captures her character and the internal conflict that eventually drives her completely batshit.

    2) Zuko and Aang are also pretty spot on, though they don't stand out quite so much as Azula.

    3) When Mai betrays Azula to help Sokka, Aang and Katara escape from the giant drill outside Ba Sing Se's outer wall, and Azula retaliates by beating Mai down and burning her face in an intentional mirror of what Ozai did to Zuko.

    4) I am greatly enjoying the future love triangle that appears to be coming between the established Sokka/Suki quasi-relationship, and the blossoming Sokka/Mai romance.

    5) Azula and Ty Lee basically switch roles with canon Zuko and Iroh and infiltrate Ba Sing Se as refugees, before hooking up with Jet, Longshot, and Smellerbee, who Azula uses to foment a populist rebellion in the lower ring of the city.

    6) I loved the brief, tragically doomed, super-fucked-up romance between Azula and Jet. He is her first love, first lover, and first ex-lover to be burned to death for interfering with her plans. Azula's already tattered psyche doesn't deal well with the guilt from this.

    7) Joo Dee's backstory is awesome. Turns out she was a fairly ruthless agent of the Order of the White Lotus who was captured and brainwashed to make use of her Earthbending talents after the Dai Li purged the Order from Ba Sing Se several years before the show takes place.

    8) I kind of enjoy the occasional odd hints of possible future pairings between Iroh/Joo Dee, and Aang/Ty Lee.

    9) Toph dealing with the trauma of being locked up by the Dai Li in a wooden box to rot in her own filth with no food or water for days, capped off by the way she gruesomely takes out a couple of Dai Li agents while trying to escape. Her paralyzing PTSD subplot manages to be both believable and compelling, but is also mercifully short. She's still dealing with the aftermath in the beginning of Book 4, but the worst seems to be behind her.

    Things I Did Not Like So Far:
    1) A little too much Zuko angst in the first two books. It's definitely in character for him, but it gets annoying after a minute.

    2) I am not a fan of amnesia subplots. Most of Book 2 is one of these for Zuko. Most Amnesia subplots feel lazy and contrived. This one just feels unnecessary.

    3) The Author allowed Aang to get to Guru Pathik before Ba Sing Se, giving him control of the Avatar State... control that he immediately loses the very first time he tries to use it because, somehow, he still hasn't gotten over his aversion to firebending. Just feels like the author felt that he'd jumped the gun on that one and decided to arbitrarily walk it back after the fact.

    Overall, for fairly consistent quality and interesting canon divergences, I give it somewhere between a 4 and a 4.5/5.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2020
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