Disclosure: I've personally known Damon Courtney for more than 20 years. I always try and give an honest critique, but if you think I'm biased take my review with a grain of salt. You won't hurt my feelings. I did not read this book until it was up for sale on Amazon.
The story follows Elody, a newly minted dragonmage, and her older brother - a failed dragonmage initiate (or perhaps of a different calling). This pair lives with their father, tilling their farm in an idyllic village cut off from most dangers. Early on in the story we also meet Berym, a kind of knight errant or traveling sheriff. He stays around for a bit, though he's more useful for an extra hand than anything else. Of course, all this changes when goblins are spotted near town - which turns out to be the tip of the iceberg of a looming battle. Elody and Rinn are forced to grow up fast and take on roles they thought they could hold off a while yet.
Courtney is enjoying spinning a fantasy story and we're allowed to come along for the ride. With 17 chapters a length just a little longer than a typical novella, yet shorter than most novels this book won't take you long. Compared to books I've read recently it's about a third as long as The Blade Itself, and just slightly shorter than A Hawk and His Boy. The pacing of the books flows quickly thanks to the action, prompting me to finish the book in two sittings. I stayed up late into the night reading it and quickly fell asleep when I finished. The next day I thought the story complete, yet I found myself still wishing for a bit more from Elody and Rinn. I would have preferred a bit more background on the two main protagonists, and maybe some on Berym too.
The word choice is well done, with a few exceptions one may expect of a debut author. Mostly, these are pedantic nit-picky issues of language anachronisms like "baby girl", "hi", and "decimate" - the later being used in the modern loose sense rather than its more accurate meaning which is "to reduce by one 10th". Shrug. This may simply be the author's voice at play. Leaving these few and minor issues aside, I found the voice and style clear - lacking in the issues that bother me about a lot of new authors. The prose is smooth and easy to follow without feeling simplified. The character development occurs naturally, particularly for the two main protagonists - a neat achievement in such a tight volume. The exposition also comes along naturally as dialog and without huge sections of info dumping from the author.
Structure wise, I can't complain. We get glimpses of the imposing danger sprinkled throughout the beginning as well as the larger danger looming over the series throughout this first book. We see Rinn and Elody growing into their roles through failure and success.
The inspiration clearly stems from the family of fantasy stories initiated by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings as well as a healthy dose of Dungeons & Dragons and the various novels from the D&D settings. You don't need to know anything about these other stories to enjoy Baptism of Blood & Fire, but if you loved those adventures then you'll enjoy this one too.
The book looks to be the start of a fun series of magic, dragons, and a brother & sister struggling to against the unknown. I'm eagerly awaiting book 2. This little novel(la) is worth your time - I would recommend this book to young adults and older.