Reread Review : Firebrand

Reread Review : FirebrandFirebrand by Kristen Britain
Published by DAW Books on February 28th 2017
Pages: 816
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three-half-stars


Magic, danger, and adventure abound for messenger Karigan G'ladheon in the sixth book in Kristen Britain's New York Times-bestselling Green Rider epic fantasy series.

Zachary Davriel Hillander, High King of Sacoridia, rues how much he has had to give up to lead his realm, including the freedom to live and love as he chooses. When an embassy from Eletia arrives to propose a joint venture between their realms to seek out an old ally in the north, he is dismayed to learn that the one Sacoridian they have in mind to accompany their guide is the woman he truly loves but cannot have: Green Rider Karigan G'ladheon.
Karigan has only just returned from a dark future where Sacoridia has been conquered and is ruled by a despotic emperor, and she has not recovered in heart or mind. As if that is not enough, the castle ghosts won't leave her alone. Though Zachary is loath to part from her so soon after her return, he knows she is the best choice to undertake the mission to the north.
Each step on their journey places Karigan and her companions closer to enemy territory and danger, for northward lie the forces of Second Empire, Sacoridia's longtime foe, and Grandmother, the necromantic leader of Second Empire, has not been idle. She uses her magic to summon a wild elemental spirit to wreak havoc upon Zachary and his wife, Queen Estora.
At first the Sacoridians succeed in fending off the creature, but it so covets Estora that it can't stay away. It abducts Zachary, assuming his form and his place at Estora's side--but when it is finally ousted, Zachary is still missing. Estora, alone and heavy with twins, must prepare her realm for the coming conflict from the confines of her bedchamber.
Meanwhile, the danger only deepens for Karigan and her companions as they journey north. When she finds herself caught in the midst of a clash between forces, Karigan must rescue and protect her king before she falls into a trap set by Grandmother--a trap that could give Second Empire the power to control the dead and all the demons of the hells.

After the disappointment that was Mirror Sight, I was relieved to move onto Firebrand, which I remembered as being a pretty solid entry in the Green Rider series. Thank goodness, that my memory did not prove wrong in this case, and I found that Firebrand was a much more enjoyable read than the last few entries in the series. Despite being somewhat of a mixed bag, I found that characters were less flat, that author Kristen Britain made an attempt at dialing down her rampant “telling” method of writing, and that there was even some poetic justice in some storylines. However, as usual, I struggled with the romantic aspect of the plot and the threads of the story that dealt with the events of Mirror Sight.

 

“Estral sat cross-legged on her blankets. ‘Are you going to be all right?’

‘Sometimes, I guess,’ Karigan replied. ‘And I guess sometimes not.’

Estral stared at her. ‘I think that is one of the most honest statements you have ever made.'”

 

I was thrilled that in Firebrand, characters finally had actual, direct interactions! Estral and Karigan had banter, fights, and time spent together! We weren’t just told that the two chatted about school life and then went to bed—finally! It was like there was an actual relationship between the two characters, and like Estral had a personality beyond having a musical talent. Beside enjoying Estral’s newly found personality, I was also overjoyed to read from Zachary’s perspective. His thoughts were conflicted and complex, and I think it really helped to get a better look inside the psyche of the King that Karigan and the rest of the Riders risk their lives for. Plus, it was great getting him away from the ever-meddling Captain Mapstone, and seeing him being able to act more of how he wished. I also loved the addition of Ana, a servant who wishes to become a Green Rider without the magical calling. I am anxious to see how she does in her new role in future installments.

 

Besides the much-needed improvement of fleshing out characters, I felt like Britain finally made some efforts to cut back on some of the unrestrained “telling.” She finally managed to use side characters to overhear things or to witness things or actual conversations between characters instead of giving us a quick shopping list-esque rundown of events. This “telling” is not altogether gone, unfortunately, but it is an essential step in the right direction.

 

Despite these upgrades, Firebrand still struggles to move the major plots of the series forward. For instance, the wall is still not fixed, and the biggest thing that happens there is that gryphons are discovered that can serve as guards for the deteriorating wall. This seemed more like filler than anything else, as does Karigan’s trek to find the moose centaurs, known as p’ehdrosians, and to ally with them against Mornhavon the Black and Amberhill. Meanwhile, Amberhill, the villainous empire of the future we were all tortured with in Mirror Sight, is nowhere to be seen. While this is a blessing because I really can’t stand the character that will become host to Mornhavon the Black and another ancient evil, it just goes to show that even huge plot points are absent from the novel in favor of what feels like busy work for Karigan.

 

“She tried to remember. When she’d returned from the future, she’d attempted to tell the king and captain everything she could before her memory failed completely. Fortunately the captain had made a transcript. Karigan had written down her recollections as well. It must have made sense at the time, but a certain amount was garbled nonsense, and trying to understand it was like trying to apply logic to a strange dream.”

 

Though honestly, the poor girl could use some busy work. Karigan is still reeling from her return to the present from the dystopian future city, and mourning the loss of Cade Harlowe, her paramour from there. Though I hated Cade, it was nice to see that his loss did somewhat realistically have an effect on Karigan, as so many other losses are merely swept under the rug. Poor Yates and Raven barely get a second thought from Karigan. However, I specifically state that the loss only had a “somewhat realistic” effect on Karigan, because Firebrand cannot seem to make up its mind what Karigan can remember of her time in the future. Though she constantly grieves over the loss of Cade, many times when someone asks her of her time in the future she can’t even remember the events or the people she was with! The constant discrepancies from Karigan not being able to remember anything at all, not even from her own notes, from what happened during her time in the future to sobbing about the loss of Cade gave me vertigo. I was relieved when she was sent on a mission to find the stupid moose centaurs, as the girl desperately needed to focus on something other than on her own pain and conflicted feelings for King Zachary.

 

But the two end up meeting as captives of the Second Empire, and not as King and servant, which is honestly one of the best things the series has ever done. On more equal footing, Karigan and Zachary finally manage to have actual conversations and interactions! This was practically miracle enough, but then they even manage to share actual feelings and kisses—thank god! I really couldn’t take the mutual pining and uncertainty anymore. But I also found it odd how Karigan could barely function at the beginning of the novel due to her grief over Cade, and then suddenly admitted her suppressed feelings of years to Zachary. Maybe it was just a confession born from the convenience of not having Captain Mapstone breathing down their necks, their shared experience of torture at the hands of the Second Empire, or the fact that they were far from home, but Karigan’s feelings were enough to give me whiplash.

 

“She shouldn’t have let it happen….How would it play out, she wondered, when they were back home, out of the wilderness and away from battle, and sharing the same roof as Estora? Estora did not deserve this. It should not have happened, and could not happen again. yet, every time she tried to prevent her feelings from Zachary from growing, they only deepened”

 

Despite my relief that this relationship between Zachary and Karigan finally moved forward, and hopefully put her feelings for the loathsome Cade to rest at last, I have a feeling that their romance won’t get too far in future entries of the series. I fear (and dread) that Karigan will feel guilt over Estora, and will try to backpedal her romance with Zachary. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took the death of Estora in childbirth or something similar for Karigan to finally accept their mutual feelings. I sure hope I’m wrong.

 

Another thing that confused me in Firebrand, other than Karigan’s flip flopping feelings and memories of the future, was that the novel suddenly threw in out of nowhere that Green Riders could not conceive children while answering the Rider Call. Um, what? Karigan was practically declared pregnant at the end of Mirror Sight, so was she not answering the Rider Call in the future when she found a new Rider Horse, battled the new embodiment of Mornhavon the Black, and sought a way to return home to report her findings to her King? That sounds like a Green Rider to me, so I don’t understand how she managed to get pregnant, or almost pregnant (blame the Eletians, not me), to Cade.

 

“Did they not know Green Riders could not conceive while they heard the call?”

 

This is another instance where the series cannot seem to remain consistent. Plus, how random was this information that Riders can’t conceive? Firebrand is the 6th book in the series, and it’s never once been mentioned before. It seems it would’ve been somewhat relevant to bring up when Karigan was sworn in as a Rider, or when discussing Captain Mapstone’s advanced age and her adopted daughter, but not a word of it is ever uttered. I wonder if the reason this fact was thrown out there has something to do with the fact that Karigan’s baby was somehow magically given to Estora to bear or to imply that Karigan will be able to have an affair with Zachary without the threat of conception. I really don’t know.

 

I’m also filled with a bit of trepidation now that the series has lost its main villain in the present, Grandmother, the leader of the Second Empire. Grandmother is by far the best villain the series has had to offer so far, more chilling and capable than all of the other villains combined, and I am worried that the series will lose a lot of its forward momentum without her as the driving force behind the Second Empire. This is even though she really didn’t do a lot in Firebrand other than opening a tomb for some extremely vague nefarious reasons. I also worry that this early loss of Grandmother means that Amberhill will become the main villain, and I am not sure I am ready to put up with that character, who has felt extraneous almost the entirety of the series, again.

 

All in all, though not much happened in the way of the main storyline in Firebrand I found it the most enjoyable read of the series since probably First Rider’s Call or at least the original, Green Rider. I was relieved that Britain finally gave some of her recurring characters, like Estral and Zachary, some much needed development and that she managed to back off a bit of her “telling” driven writing. I am hoping that future entries in the series will follow this trend as well and excited to see where the story will take Karigan.

 


Read my reviews for the other books in the Green Rider series:

For my reread and most recent reviews of the series —

For my original review of the series —

three-half-stars
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Reread Review - Firebrand - Blogging with Dragons

Posted August 30, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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