Let’s just get this first thing out in the open. For the rest of her life, Gillian Anderson will always first and foremost be Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI. And just so we’re clear, there are definitely worse things she could be associated with.
I was totally batshit obsessed with The X-Files back in the day. Like, ad-hoarding-under-the-bed, fanfic-reading, thinking-about-it-all-the-time, staying-up-until-3-AM-on-school-nights-to-watch-re-runs-obsessed*. It was My Show. So, as a caveat for the rest of this review, that lingering love for GA and her X-Files days is the only reason I read this book, when I normally would have read the blurb and been like either, a) NUCLEAR WAR NO THANKS, or b) Meh, thrillers??? Point being, not something I’d seek out on my own.
*Kids today are spoiled. They can just Netflix this shit up and finish it in weeks, if not days. I had to work HARD to make sure I’d seen every episode. I mean, my God, it was even before DVDs! And I started watching in season six! Keeping detailed spreadsheets, scouring the TV Guide every week for possible ones I’d missed, pretending to watch shows my mom approved of while secretly recording it on my VCR . . . and every episode was magical as a result. I mean, I don’t miss all the work I had to do to catch up on a TV show, not really, but I do miss that feeling. You know?
Second thing: this was not a bad book by any means, but it was very silly in points, and very new agey. This was pretty much exactly what I’d been expecting going in, because I’ve seen the episode GA wrote and directed for The X-Files (“all things”), and as much as I want to high-five her for pushing to get that M&S post-sex scene* in there, that episode was (and remains) one of the trippiest, new agiest things I’d seen on TV. And I watch a lot of TV.
*The thing that I love most about that scene in retrospect is that it’s just in there and no one ever mentions it again. And this was a at a time when us sad little shippers had to pick through every episode with a fine-toothed comb to get a fix for our UST. And somehow I completely missed the blow-up surrounding this episode. To be honest, I didn’t even pick up on its (now blatantly obvious) message in the slightest. Which was: M&S ARE BONING YOU FOOLS. I was just like, oh hey, why is Scully putting her shirt on in Mulder’s apartment while he’s naked in the bed? I have no idea what I was thinking. It’s not like I didn’t have sex on the brain when I was fifteen, because I way totally did. And then, whoops! She turns up preggers! How did that happen!? Um, spoilers?
In many ways, A Vision of Fire is a pretty standard sci-fi thriller, more akin to one of those ones you can buy in a grocery store than anything else. It’s pulpy and fast-paced and everything is written to be as extremely dramatic as possible. For the first half of the book, anyway. And then . . . well. It gets weird and scary and just weird. I liked GA’s conscious decision to make it a more global novel, even as her protagonist, Caitlin O’Hara, is a white American. Pretty much everyone else is a POC and of different nationalities, and they’re pretty well-rounded considering the type of story they’re inhabiting. I know from interviews that other cultures and religions have always been pretty interesting to her, so it doesn’t surprise me she’d choose to feature them so prominently in her debut novel (which she presumably had a lot of help with from writing partner Jeff Rovin).
My main issue with the book, aside from it being something that isn’t normally my cuppa, is that the main character starts believing in the weird stuff really, absurdly quickly. She basically goes from being a normal child psychologist (albeit a high profile one) to someone who makes intuitive leaps of faith and accepts stuff that is really frickin’ weird in almost no time at all, and with very little evidence for most of it. (I’m trying to be vague about the actual plot so as to retain the thrill of surprise for you–pretty much if you take that away from this type of book, you’re shooting it in the foot.)
In all honesty, the weirdness was part of the draw, so I can’t really complain about it too much. She pretty much sticks to your standard thriller formula, otherwise, including a love interest (who I of course pictured as David Duchovny). That part of the book wasn’t all that remarkable, but it was also pretty harmless as well. All in all, A Vision of Fire was a really quick popcorn read, so if you don’t end up liking it, you won’t have wasted much time on it. If you come in expecting GA weirdness, you won’t be disappointed.
This book is apparently the first in a series, as well, and with the way this one ended, it can only get more weird from here.