Fantasy Review: ‘Firebrand’ by Gillian Philip

FirebrandWhat was this book about?  The question is not rhetorical, I am not really sure I can answer it adequately.  The easy answer is it is about Fairies caught up in a sixteenth century witch-hunt; at least for half the book.  From there it is a slow burning buildup to possible rebellion.  Which sounds like a disjointed approach but the two halves transition seamlessly and do read as one tale.  But it’s not really historical fantasy, only a small portion takes place in ‘the real world.’   And it isn’t much of a Faerie tale; outside of longer lives the Sidhe live lives almost identical to the mortals many of them look down on.

The series is called Rebel Angels, and perhaps because of that I spent half my reading time drawing parallels between the land beyond the veil in which the Sidhe live to a bastardized garden of Eden.  I have some nice notes about the parallels of exiled Sidhe and angels on earth; some ideas about how a religion could have grown from misunderstood fairies.  Even had a nice heavenly revolt in the form of the protagonist’s building antagonism toward the Sidhe queen.  At which point I actually Googled ‘Sidhe’ and realized they were just a localized version of the same Fae present in fantasy all over.  So all my comparisons are probably in my head.  Oh well.

Seth makes an interesting protagonist; a bit of hothead, not always the sharpest around, but fairly competent and with a realistic mix of compassion and selfishness.  His brother went from a bit too perfect in the early going to someone who had a few flaws; the brotherly love between the two was very strong.  Likewise the young lady introduced in the prologue, at the time about to be burned as a witch, starts a prop to be saved and turns into half of a very bittersweet romance.  One of the better played romantic angles I have read recently; the different life spans between Seth and the mortal girl provides some very interesting implications.  Rare book that I wish had focused more on its romantic elements.

The story itself was strait forward enough, fast moving and easy to follow.  My issue is deciding if I actually enjoyed it or not.  It was good enough to keep reading but never surprised me, never mesmerized me, never really made me care.  I spent more time thinking about the implications of Sidhe=Angel thing, and occasionally trying to figure out minor rules of this fictional universe (wait, was that a witchhunt in the land behind the veil?), than I really spent dissecting the main plot.  I got lost when it came to characters; a strange place to find myself considering how small the cast really was.  For instance one character in fairyland held an intense dislike of Seth and I couldn’t find if or where we were told why.

Eh, not every book works for every reader.  With an interesting protagonist and different path than the typical English faeries , Firebrand should(and has) appeal to many people.  But a lackluster plot didn’t do a whole lot for me and I have little interest in following through with the next book in the series.

3 Stars

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