Book Review: Firebrand by Kristen Britain

Title:  Firebrand

Author:  Kristen Britain

Publisher: DAW

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted

After the curious diversion that was Mirror Sight, Kristen Britain returns to more familiar realms with Firebrand, the sixth book of the Green Rider series. The consequences of Karigan's future experiences weigh heavily on this story, something I didn't expect, given the way her memories were allowed to fade. She is a changed woman here, and what Britain does with all that self-doubt, anxiety, and regret is powerful stuff - especially when contrasted against Estral and her fading voice. It's often tiresome, to be honest, but it is realistic.

Pacing has always been an issue for the series, and here it makes for an interminably long slog before the action really gets started; digs in a few unfortunate pauses throughout; and forces an inexplicably abrupt conclusion to the story. I usually read these books cover-to-cover in a few days, but this is the first book of the series that I put down, halfway through, long enough to read two other books before returning.

In terms of plot, if you're waiting for the return of Mornhavon the Black or even a major confrontation between forces to advance the main conflict . . . well, you're going to have to keep waiting. This is a Grandmother story, which means this is female-fronted fantasy with a female villain, and while she is one against relegated to magical catalyst as opposed to legitimate threat, she is responsible for two of the more interesting aspects of the book. The first is the Aureas Slee, an ice elemental who is summoned to kill King Zachary, but who becomes enamored of Queen Estora. It is an interesting creature, a monster with a personality, and the exploration of its lair and captives was exciting. The second is Nyssa, the Second Empire's chief torturess, a sadist who enjoys taking her victims to the edge of madness and death. She gets far too little page time, but does have an interesting role to play in the last portion of the book, which makes me wonder if we've truly seen the last of her.

For such a female-fronted story - Karigan, Estral, Estora, Laren, and Grandmother - I was surprised to find that the best part of the book is actually Zachary. The King gets to do something here, to step away from his Weapons and engage as a human being rather than a political authority. He really has a trio of narrative arcs here, and I liked seeing him out of his element. Even his will-they-won't-they scenes with Karigan are welcome, because they force a much-needed discussion of who they are, what they mean to one another, and what that means for Sacoridia. In fact, I would argue that this is more his story than Karigan's, for he is the one who suffers, overcomes, and brings people together. Even stripped of his authority as King, he still proves himself to be a natural leader.

The worst part, by far, is the continued reliance on divine intervention to resolve key plot points. These characters suffer through so much, and persevere through so many challenges, they deserve to have a hand in saving the day - not to have supernatural powers step in and take over. What makes the ending of this book such a challenge is that it's telegraphed so far in advance. We know how it's going to end, we know what powers will be responsible, and we know it's pretty much going to negate anything the heroes can do or have done. To have not just one, but two supernatural powers conveniently save the day here was a major disappointment.

So, with all that said, why do I keep reading? Because the journey matters more than the destination, the story more than the ending, and the characters more than the conflict. Two decades later, this still feels like a 90s epic fantasy saga, one that refuses to grow and evolve to fit current trends, and I hope that never changes. Despite what its critics might say, that feel is why I crave it, and why I'll be ready and waiting when the next book lands, more than happy to see where Britain takes things next.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀