Originally, Voice of the Fire was printed as a paperback original for Victor Gollanz in 1996. I have a copy. It's not a very pretty book: the cover is, frankly, ugly, looking as if the artist sat around in the afternoon and tried to make a flag, while the back of the book is hardly an explanation for the cave boy's narrative that is on the first page. (The opening paragraph is A-hind of hill, ways off to sun-set-down, is sky come like as fire, and walk I up in way of this, all hard of breath, where is grass colding on I's feet and wetting they.) If you had no idea who Alan Moore was, you might very well have put the book back onto the shelf (assuming you lived in Britain, cause I don't think it got much further than that) and then years later would have had to listen to me say, "Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire is excellent," and then refuse to lend it to you because I have that curious illness that does not allow me to lend books. CDs, DVDs, children, sure, no problem... books, no.
Well, Voice of the Fire has been reprinted by Top Shelf Comics in a very beautiful hardcover, with lovely pieces of photography by Jose Villarrubia throughout, and an introduction by Neil Gaiman. It begins with the same cave boy, and it ends with Moore's own voice (which is the stage voice he uses in his live performances like The Birth Caul) and is still, really, excellent.
Alan Moore is known by most for comics: Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and From Hell, just to name three. I'm particularly fond of Promethea, myself. But if the book has any comparison to it, then it's most closely linked to From Hell, the sprawling examination of all the possible versions of Jack the Ripper, placed into one cohesive story line. Voice of the Fire takes a similar idea, except Moore's focus is upon a place, Northampton, and he forces an entire history into twelve interlocking narratives that are linked through reoccurring images, actions, and myth. Just as From Hell isn't about Jack the Ripper, but rather everything that formed Jack, Voice of the Fire is not about Northampton, but everything that has formed it. And everything that has formed it might just be a lie: the Northampton of Moore's novel could very well not exist outside Moore's own experience and understanding of it.
To talk about what happens in the novel's chapters directly is to give things away, to spoil moments, but I am going to return to the cave boy narrative that begins Voice of the Fire anyhow. It's a brave thing Moore has done: the voice is demanding to its reader, alienating and not at all comforting, and will, I'm sure, turn more than one reader away. But it is technically brilliant, and even though at times I did not enjoy the chapter as I would later enjoy 'Confessions of a Mask' or 'The Cremation Fields', the simple skill that has gone into assembling it is more than enough for me to recommend someone reading the book. Yet, however, if you do begin to read the book, and you find yourself wanting to skip: the opening chapter, 'Hob's Hog', which is so very important to the book, is only fifty pages long. Beyond that lie knights, witches, killers, and a man who sells undergarments...
Voice of the Fire is tied together by Moore's final narrative, that of himself. Like the first chapter, it's a brave and technically brilliant thing, because in doing this, he could have broken to novel. The chapters would have been left as shards for you to pick over and discuss, and I'm sure you would have come up with your favourite, and treated it as an isolated thing. But it is not, and the final narrative of Moore himself ensures this.
I could talk about this book more, but I won't. You should buy this book. I don't know if there'll ever be a second novel, or if someone will collect the bits of short fiction Moore has published (and someone should), but if enough of you buy this, then perhaps there will be. Even if that doesn't happen, you will still have one very fine, excellent novel.