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In yesterday’s post, I compared standard young adult dystopian tropes to the new standard of life in the time of Coronavirus. I promised a review of another look at near-future dystopia, as Gordon Rottman describes it in his new release, Blazing Summer.

BLURB: Blazing Summer by Gordon L. Rottman

In a country sliding toward a dystopian future with dwindling resources and ineffectual meddling government, terrorists are igniting forest fires to disrupt the economy and force abandonment of towns and farms. 17-year-old Ashley Summers, in need of work, but harboring secrets, enlists as a wildlands firefighter. Underage and hiding a physical defect, she faces an everyday battle of life or death from man and nature. She has to deal with hazing, unwanted dates, being pressed into promotional gimmicks, and self-serving investigative reporters. Each fire grows progressively worse, and the danger increases from the terrorists merely sparking fires, to snipers, hostage taking, grenade attacks, and car bombs. The deteriorating situation saw soldiers assigned to protect the fire crews and Ashley has to deal with an unexpected romance under deadly conditions. Struggling to survive the vicious fires, injuries, exhaustion, stress, and raw fear, Ashley feels the pressure slowly crushing her. She knows she can rely on her crew, but can they rely on her?

My Review: 4 stars out of 5

I’ve been a huge fan of Gordon Rottman’s novels, and especially of Marta, the mute young heroine of his Hardest Ride series of westerns. His latest release, Blazing Summer, moves from the western genre to near-future dystopian.

Gordon Rottman lives outside of Houston, Texas, served in the Army for twenty-six years in a number of “exciting” units, and wrote war games for Green Berets for eleven years. He’s written over 120 military history books, but his interests have turned to adventurous young adult novels—influenced by a bunch of audacious kids, Westerns owing to his experiences on his wife’s family’s ranch in Mexico, and historical fiction focusing on how people really lived and thought—history does not need to be boring.

Seventeen-year-old Ashley Summers might seem like the last person likely to apply for a job fighting wildfires. Not only were her parents killed in a fire, but she herself was critically burned and permanently handicapped. But in the bleak near-future of a rapidly disintegrating country where climate change has turned Texas into a powderkeg, she sees joining a wildfire crew as her only chance of earning enough money to pay for a college education.

As she fights to earn her place on the crew, we soon realize the fires hold two other secrets. First, during the nightmare fire that claimed the lives of her parents, the younger Ashley and her friends are rescued by a firefighter. “That’s when I saw Her, emerging out of the smoke like a diva parading onto a stage through parted red curtains.” The unknown woman who rescues them—the first real hero Ashley has ever seen—becomes the standard against which she measures her own life.

But more disturbing is the fire itself. It’s an adversary, an enemy, and a seductively beguiling lure.

It’s the most terrifying and beautiful thing you’ll ever see.

In a nod to YA dystopian tropes, Ashley—or Blaze, as she’s soon nicknamed—is a tall redhead, “luxuriously so”. People have only to see her and they want to hire/date/befriend/photograph/interview her. Everywhere she goes, she’s just in time to save the day and end up everyone’s favorite wildfire-fighting media sensation.

But despite a nod to the trappings of the genre, Blazing Summer is closer to author Rottman’s westerns with their clear delineation of good guys and bad. The world he builds is only barely in our future, a dystopia that dials up everything he dislikes about our current world to over-the-top levels. Politically-correct objections to traditional celebrations like Halloween, Christmas, and Easter have ripped the soul out of holidays. Schools have eliminated difficult subjects which might damage self-esteem, leading to abysmal high school graduation rates. And worse crime of all—at least in Texas—the government goes after their guns. “Funny thing. Bad guys can buy a gun on the street night or day. An honest person needing to protect herself, it was a weeks’ long wait.”

Even their beloved pickup trucks are endangered. (Is nothing sacred?)

“Your ride here still legal?’ Matt asked.

‘Grandfather clause. It’s old enough that I didn’t have to put in the new homogeneity direct fuel injection system,’ I said. Not that it saves much gas, I thought. It’s another government rip-offs nobody tried to correct, like those spirally light bulbs with the sickly gow. The ones increasing the chance of skin cancer.’

With her prosthesis (which she calls Ontos after a “…little squatty ugly tank the Marines used years ago, in some place called Vietnam.”) replacing the part of her foot destroyed following the fire that killed her parents and with the burn scars on her back, Ashley is hardly the model of the dystopian Chosen One. But she does manage to inspire her disparate group of fledgling firefighters to become a cohesive team, not to mention she successfully fights forest fires, rescues babies, eludes the fire-starting terrorists, becomes a media darling, and oh yeah—falls in love.

I might not always agree with his politics, but I have to admit that author Gordon Rottman builds a compellingly disturbing world, and sets up (illegally-underage and illicitly-handicapped) Ashley to become the adrenaline-fuelled heroic rescuer. My only complaint is that I found the characters less three-dimensional than I could have hoped, and the insta-romance between Blaze and Russell unconvincing. Yes, I get that young warriors don’t have much spare time for a lot of soul-baring and introspection. But I didn’t see Blaze and Russell sharing emotional intimacies or having any particular idea of what was pulling them together beyond physical attraction. In fact, they seem to spend most of their time hiding personal feelings, history, and detail.

Still, with the terrific writing and rollercoaster thrill action, this is an exciting story. I read it through in one sitting, and if the action and firefighting scenes are more real than the relationship and romance ones, that might makes sense set against the ever-increasingly dire stakes.