The Door Into Fire by Diane Duane. ★★★
The Door Into Fire is a 1979 fantasy novel set in a world where essentially everyone’s pansexual and same-sex relationships completely common and accepted. Since some great past calamity, Herewiss is the only man to posses the power of the blue flame, but he cannot find a means to control or use it. But while he’s struggling to try and forge a sword capable of bearing his power, he receives an urgent summons from his lover Freelorn, a usurped prince trying to gather an army to retake his country. Freelorn is trapped and needs Herewiss to rescue him. And perhaps along the way, Herewiss will finally learn to unlock his magic.
I’m a big fan of Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series, so I decided to finally getting around to checking out her debut novel. You can see seeds of the writer that she’ll become – the themes of the importance of life and fighting against entropy are still in her works – but The Door Into Fire is so much less polished than her other works.
The focus of The Door Into Fire was on the characters. The plot felt lackluster, and I at times felt like the narrative was just moving from set piece to set piece. Now that X is done with, it’s time to move to plot point Y. And so forth. The pacing at the beginning is also rather slow, and it took me a while to get any degree of involvement in the book at all.
Unfortunately for a character based novel, I didn’t have much engagement with the characters. The only character who I really liked was Sunspark, a fire elemental that shows up on Herewiss’s journey to rescue Freelorn. Sunspark’s dialogue practically sparkled, and it provided pretty much the only humor in the novel. Basically, Sunspark is what brought the book to life for me.
That said, Herewiss did actually have a lot of characterization. I could see myself potentially liking him and the other characters more if I read the sequels… but I doubt I’ll read the sequels.
The Door Into Fire‘s main world building innovation is the non-heteronormativity. I’ll also point out that it’s not an especially erotic book, although sex and sexuality do seem threaded through the story. The focus is on the relationship between the characters more than the details of their sex lives. Aside from the normalization of same-sex relationships, most of the fantasy elements were exceedingly familiar, although perhaps it would have felt fresher when it came out in 1979.
However, at heart The Door Into Fire is a happy story, and there’s not a lot of LGBT fantasy books you can say that about, particularly older ones. So while I’m not planning on visiting this world again, I can still see it having an appeal for those looking for queer fantasy novels with happy endings.