ARC Review: Flamecaster

FlamecasterFlamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A burning vengeance.

Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. The son of the queen of the Fells, Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

A blood-based curse.

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Destiny’s fiery hand.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

We return to the Seven Realms in this spin-off involving kids of characters from the original series. Beware that if you are planning to read Seven Realms, it would be wise to read that first and then get to this one, as the starting few chapters of Flamecaster spoil a lot for the ending of Crimson Crown. Also, this review will involve spoilers for that series, so beware. If you were never planning to read Seven Realms anyway, don’t fret – this one is still separate enough from the previous that you can get right into things. Also, overall in theme, it is a different style of fantasy from Seven Realms quartet. Where the previous series stretched from Fells, to Oden’s Ford and to the Highlands, this one is centered mostly around Ardenscourt, with a few chapters in Oden’s Ford and Delphi.

The story begins with two of our protagonists Adrian sul’Han (yep, the prince of Fellsmarch) and Jenna just on the cusp of teenage, and both suffer personal losses (one is a major character from Seven Realms) that harden their hearts and puts them on parallel paths to revenge against Gerard Montaigne, the King of Arden. Gerard has not yet forgiven the slight when Raisa insulted him by declining his offer (a generous term as it was more of a threat) of marriage, and a quarter century later he is like that f***-boy who still moans about how ugly the girl was. Basically, he is still sore and has been at a constant war with Fells, crippling the economies of both that queendom and his kingdom for decades. He is basically Hated Person #1 in all the Seven Realms, which means a lot of people are reaching for his jugular, Adrian included.

The plot is more of a spy thriller-sort with a lot of the secondary characters not clear in who they are working for (looking at you, Destin). There is Lila, who is a Southerner by looks, but seems to work for Arden’s court and is Adrian’s dorm-mate at Oden’s Ford. Despite them not getting along, she keeps being around him, and he is worried because he is in hiding. In Delphi, Jenna is in hiding, too, because she is magemarked and has the Empress of the Northern Isles hunting for her. Basically, a lot of aliases are floating around in this book, so you have to be on the hunt for who is who. That makes things exciting, because it is far away from Fellsmarch but it also affects that queendom and by now you are pretty protective of it, and by extension protective of Adrian. Also, if there is one way you can make a book more exciting is by adding dragons, and yep, we have them in this one. Yay!

While I immensely enjoyed the Seven Realms quartet, and think this is also a great spin-off, I still feel it falls a bit short of the original. Firstly, the characters are mostly a mystery in terms of characterization. The romance picks up too fast, and is sort of insta-lovey. The reason for them both to go into hiding was so rushed and inorganic I felt the respective characters were killed off just to put the plot into motion. Also, I felt there are some plot holes around, like those vampire priests (trust me, they are a thing in this book) knew Adrian’s real identity but never tell Arden even though it would have made it easier for them to get to him? Flamecaster on its own is a pretty good book, nevertheless, but Seven Realms is obviously a tough act to follow.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from HarperCollins, via Edelweiss.

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