I am usually very wary of delving back into worlds that I’ve already read about in a previous series, but I ignored that when I read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and loved it and I loved and really enjoyed the Seven Realms series and so decided to give Flamecaster a go.
First off, Flamecaster is every bit as awesome as the Seven Realms series, I loved the characters and the setting. It is fast-paced with plenty of stuff going on and inter-connected narratives. The main difference between this and the previous series is that this features more points of view. I mat be wrong but as far as I remember, the previous series only featured POVs of Raisa and Han. There may be a case of insta-love but I’ll get to that later. There was also a despicable antagonist and signs of another threat on the horizon.
While most the Seven Realms series took place in the Fells and Oden’s Ford, Flamecaster was set in the kingdom of Arden. It is ruled by the cruel king Gerard Montaigne and they have a zealous state religion called the Church of Malthus which brands mages as demons and shuns magic. The kingdom is in constant turmoil because of their ongoing war with the Fells and the toll that it’s taking on the people.
Part of the reason why I was excited to read this was the possibility of meeting of Han and Raisa and while we did meet Han, Raisa is only mentioned. We also learn that they have 3 children but sadly their eldest daughter is killed in an ambush causing much heartbreak and anguish to the family. I have a feeling that we’ll see a lot more of Raisa in the next installment.
There are a number of important characters in Flamecaster, Ash (Han and Raisa’s son), Jenna (a mysterious orphan from Delphi with a strange mark on her neck), Lila (a smuggler who’s only loyal to herself) and finally Destin Karn (a lieutenant in the Blackbirds). They each have their own narratives and their paths, while they start out separately, eventually converge in the capital city of Ardenscourt. This was one of the rare instances where I liked all the main characters.
Ash is Han and Raisa’s middle child who leaves his home looking for revenge against a man who has caused his family so much pain. I liked Han, he knew what he wanted and how to get it. He was also cautious and patient, biding his time to get to his target. But being a healer at heart, he was also kind and compassionate. He was equally adept at administering poison and healing a serious injury. (for some reason I keep thinking of him as Han)
Jenna was a mine-worker in Delphi and early losses turn her against the King. She becomes an explosives expert and helps the rebels (called Patriots here) to sabotage the coal mines and also cause unrest. But she also a strange magemark on her neck which marks her as different and puts her on Celestine’s, queen of the Northern Islands, radar. Her life turns upside down when Celestine promises Montaigne an army in exchange for her. Jenna is fierce. resourceful and spontaneous but a hard life has made her wary of trusting people. Even when the odds are stacked against her, she still fights and doesn’t give up. She opens up to Han because they each see the loss and pain that the other has suffered and how lonely they both are. She isn’t a mage but she never let that stop her from fighting back. I loved her spirit.
Now for that insta-love problem I mentioned earlier. In hindsight, it makes more sense considering that Ash and Jenna were in a strange city surrounded by a pit of vipers. They could only count on themselves and both had suffered so much loss. It made sense that they would gravitate towards each other since they were both so alike. Knowing Chima, they are both in for a tough time where their relationship is concerned. There will be plenty of miscommunication and misunderstanding headed their way. All I ask is that she avoid love triangles, I cannot tell you just how sick I am of those.
Then there was Lila, a smuggler and yet it is never clear where her loyalties lie. She says the correct things but somehow they ring false. On the surface, she is helping King Montaigne by procuring collars to control mages and help win the fight against Queen Raisa, but it is also clear that there is more to her than meets the eye. She is cunning and proficient with a blade, capable of protecting herself. She was also single minded about her own mission and refused to let Ash muck it up for her.
Finally there is Destin Karn. We always know that he’s working for the wrong side and yet he remains a sympathetic figure. Unlike the others that he works with, he’s not cruel and doesn’t believe in mindless killing. He has to deal with a cruel and abusive father who belittles and humiliates him at every turn. Even with Destin, it is clear that there is more to him, he seems to have a mission of his own. He is also a formidable mage and a compelling character. It is clear that he has some ties with the Northern Islands’ emissary but it’s not apparent what that might be.
Oh and did I mention that there’s even a dragon that gets thrown into the mix? Yep and while it isn’t full grown yet, it still manages to do a decent amount of damage. Can’t wait to see more of him!
Another thing I loved about Flamecaster was just how awesome and capable the women were. They were absolutely amazing even saving the male characters a couple of times. They were level-headed, cautious and driven, letting nothing get in the way of their objective. They never needed rescuing and often came up with solutions. It is also worth noting that neither one of the two main female characters had any magical abilities (not in the way the mages did) and could still hold their own.
Flamecaster sets up a number of players wonderfully, they are compelling and complex characters who’s motives aren’t immediately clear. It also presents us with a possible antagonist in the form of Queen Celestine who seems keen on capturing Jenna but who’s true plan remains to be seen. I suspect that she’s gearing up for a war with the rest of the Seven Realms. I suspect that that might cause the Fells and Arden to unite to thwart her. By all we’ve seen in Flamecaster and heard about Celestine, she seems like a formidable opponent who would be both ruthless and cunning on the field. Not to mention that she probably has an army of mages and quite possibly dragons at her disposal. I can’t wait to read the next book but sadly, so far there is absolutely no news about the sequel… Looks like we’re in for a long wait…
P.S. – I am so excited to see Raisa in the next installment, all grown up and now a powerful queen in her own right. I just hope that she remains that way and doesn’t die because that would be a low blow and unnecessary.. So please Ms. Chima, let Raisa be safe…