Firebrand by Kristen Britain
Three years later and we have a new Green Rider novel. Sure, I hated the last book and despaired of any future books. But, well, I am bored and the library had a copy. So, once more I will turn my attention to the series on a downhill trajectory from really great to oh-so-dull as we review Firebrand by Kristen Britain.
I am pretty sure this 800 page monstrosity is the longest Green Rider book to date. To those who have perused any of my book reviews, it can come as no surprise that I thought the novel was bloated and the writing mediocre at best. But before we go any further, I just want to assure the adoring fans of the Green Rider Universe: If you loved the first 4 books in the series (no one really liked book 5), then you will undoubtedly love this one too. If you are just starting with Firebrand, I really have to question your thought process. Who comes into an epic fantasy series at book 6?
Over the past couple days, and long-winded pages, I have been ruminating on exactly what I was going to write about. I confess, I am really not sure what to say. I didn’t like the book, but die-hard fans will? True, but hardly a detailed post. I suppose we must look at what I didn’t like and for that we are going to have spoilers. So, be warned!
Like Mirror Sight and Blackveil, Firebrand suffers from too many words/too many pages. It is unnecessarily long. While, it is an improvement over Mirror Sight that was such a low bench mark I really feel it should not count as an accomplishment. Now, to be honest, I did not re-read all the past books before picking up Firebrand. I just couldn’t be bothered. So, perhaps it is my failing memory that has the Evil Grandmother still in Blackveil. Which I thought was an unexplained problem as in Firebrand she is way up north. It is possible I forgotten this transition.
I’m not cranky, I am emotionally damaged – see that makes me a real and complex character!
So, our spunky heroine Karigan is about 25 years old. Over the course of the saga she has gone from runaway school girl to demi-god. Which brings me to my first major complaint of power creep. In order for Karigan to progress as a character, she becomes increasingly stronger in each novel. She has gone from being able to use a sliver of magic to disappear to being the avatar of the death god with the power to seal the dead and direct the spirits of the recently deceased.
Mostly, she is akin to a god; the one person who can survive anything and do anything. It is more than just a little over the top. Of course, the fact that there are other superheroes, I mean powerful characters does not diminish the ridiculousness of it. Reading about Karigan now requires more than just a little suspension of disbelief, because everything she has done in her short life span is over the top. She is the most capable rider (as is evidenced by the missions she is sent on), she is a sword-master, an honorary Weapon, a friend (maybe?) to the Queen (it is complicated), a friend of the mystical Elt, a friend to the Golden Guardian, the true love any important man to enter into the novels (including, but not limited to the King, Alton, Yates, Enver, Cade, etc.) and inspiration to everyone else (who isn’t Evil).
Yes, I realize that the author then tries to balance Karigan’s super-amazingness with flaws, but being cranky or suffering from grief/torture are not really striking a semblance of realism. Her problems are either stupidly small or overwhelming large that it only emphasize how unrealistic the character has become.
Fantasy creep – where did all this magic come from?
Along with the power creep of the main character there is fantasy creep. That is the incremental increase in fantastical or magical elements to a story. This occurs in fantasy novels where the author strives to recreate that sense of world-building wonder only ever achieved in the first book of a series. Stubbornly, however, the author will continue to dream up wondrous beasts or magic infused elements in their vain attempt to bring back that first rush of amazement felt by the reader.
It never works.
Worse, it creates an internal logic problem. We are told that magic is leaving the lands. That is was scoured from the kingdom thousands of years ago – literally they killed people who had magic. That even the Elt have noticed its decline over the centuries. Then suddenly it is coming back? All because of a breach in the wall, or because the author forgot that this was a low magic world? No explanation. As for the reactions of the people, well, they are hesitant but largely accepting. No one seems to question why we now have Griffins, that didn’t exist three books ago. Or the mirror man – which seemed largely out of place. Nope, this reads like an author who loved the little bit of magic too much and now we are suddenly swimming in it.
Elt improvements – they are now Vulcans!
I have previously commented on the Tolkein flavoured Elt (they are the now stereotypical elves) and their lack of originality. Well, someone heard by complaints because not only do we suddenly have half-Elt they are also emotionally-stifled. The problem with the half-Elt is the fact that these beings had apparently not been seen in the lands for several hundred years prior to book one. While that was changed in later books – because naturally our heroine must have an Elt connection – it still seems odd that half-Elt would exist now.
But more importantly, why are they like the Vulcans? Emotionally stoic until it is mating time. Then they have no control over the sexual urges. This is the best you could do for a character flaw? Really?
There was a mission – oops, I nearly forgot.
So, Karigan goes off on an impossible mission to find the moose people, I mean the p’ehdrose and Estral’s father (the Golden Guardian). When the story eventually gets going, we spend most of the time tracking down the missing musician or following the kidnapped King. We have more time with the Second Empire and our dearly departed Grandmother. We are briefly introduced to more Evil characters, because someone has to die by the end. Spoilers, someone from the Good Team parishes too (can you guess which one?).
After plodding through the woods, facing freezing cold winds, working in the mines, being physically tortured and finally destroying the Second Empire’s most recent camp we are left wondering, what did happen to our diplomatic mission? And why is Karigan sent anywhere for talks when she always ends up in a battle? Not the diplomat I would choose.
Never fear, you may have thought the author forgot about the p’hedrose, or decided the rest of the mission would be saved for another over inflated book. I would be wrong in this case. Nope, Karigan meets and treats with the p’hedrose in just about 2 chapters tucked in at the end, making us wonder, why it took 200 pages for her to leave the castle in the first place?
Wait, we didn’t forget about these characters – see, they are right here at the end.
Now, I know there are some people out there who hate Lord Amberhill. I am not one of them. Well, at least I liked him in The High King’s Tomb. I was fond of this sword thrusting charismatic thief. And clearly the author was too, because she carried him through book 4 and made him more of a feature in book 5. When it came to book 6, Firebrand, well, I thought poor Lord Amberhill had been forgotten; along with several Green Riders.
But that was not the case. Nope, she makes mention of our dear Lord Amberhill as a point of conversation between two green riders in the dying pages of this epic work. Yup, 800 pages and Lord Amberhill is relegated to a passing comment on the very last page. A real clutch character we have here.
Where’s the connection – why did we have Mirror Sight?
There was one question that kept running through my mind as we trailed after Karigan and sat with the Queen (confined to her bed like a good pregnant wife): What was the point of Mirror Sight. Book 5 had zero barring on the characters and plot of Firebrand. And to those who argue otherwise, I challenge you to think about the events really closely.
With a few minor tweaks, Karigan could have been just as emotionally scarred from her adventures in Blackveil. The mysterious reference to the weapon that some super-minor characters are searching for could have come from another source. The mirror eye could still have resulted from the end of Blackveil. The p’hedrose could have been convinced to join the cause for other reasons. Really, with very little effort Mirror Sight could be erased from the series without a problem. Emphasizing once more that it was a waste of a novel.
While I will continue to argue the author’s best books were still the first two in the series (Green Rider and First Rider’s Call), there is merit in saying Firebrand is an improvement (slightly) over Mirror Sight. If I could offer a suggestion or two. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the over-arching narrative. Does Karigan really have to the main character? Could we not branch out and explore some other issues and other people? Tamora Pierce is fond of series too. However, I think she was really cleaver in her handling of her fantasy world of Tortall. Pierce has several characters and thus different story arches all in the same world. She can move forward or backward in time as her fancy dictates. And regularly has four books for each of her characters, who then appear as cameos in other books. I think this helps to keep individual books from become bloated and any one character from becoming too powerful (though that might be arguable). Certainly, this method allows the author to explore her creativity more. Then we could look at a future as seen in Mirror Sight, still in the same world only facing different problems. That, I think would be really interesting.