Firebrand (Green Rider)
by Kristen Britain
Cover Artist: Donato
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756408800
Date: 28 February 2017
Firebrand is the sixth book in the Green Rider series about Karigan, one of the King's Green Riders, a messenger service who act as first responders, spies, and whatever else the king needs. The series began in 1998 and are fairly traditional low-magic fantasies involving threats to the kingdom from the past. Each Rider has a low-level magical talent augmented by the brooch each wears. Karigan’s power is an ability to turn herself mostly invisible.
Firebrand opens with Karigan not fully recovered from her last adventure. Although most of her memories of her trip to the future are cloudy, she remembers falling in love with Cade and mourns having to leave him to return to her own time. Instead of gaining much-needed rest, she has to contend with visits by her father and her rather overbearing aunts, an ambassador from the Elts (think Lord of the Rings style elves), and her friend Lady Estral whose voice has been stolen. After helping save the court from an attack by ice creatures, Karigan is made a swordmaster and honorary Weapon (king’s bodyguards). She then is given a complex mission to find and forge an alliance with the p’ehdrose, a people long thought extinct. Accompanying her are Estral, who wants help finding her wandering father and Lhean, one of the Elts. And, waiting in the wings, is the continued menace of the Second Empire.
Firebrand is a welcome return to form for this series. I had been disappointed by Blackveil , the fourth book, and was pleased to see the author shake things up through time travel in Mirror Sight . Now this book presents the more experienced Karigan back in the familiar surroundings of the first few books.
This book has some serious flaws. It takes too long for the plot to get moving and it is frequently slow moving. At almost 800 pages, the book could have been tighter; an editor could have made this a better book by trimming 200 or so pages. Also, as evil forces go, the Second Empire, basically reduced to a nomadic tribe, does not seem very threatening, especially as the ruler is called Grandmother and does much of her magic by weaving. Still, the characterization remains excellent and this book gives King Zachary an adventure of his own as he is kidnapped by an ice elemental and must find a way to escape.
It is interesting to see fantasy novels trying to be more realistic by having characters' adventures take a toll on their bodies and spirits. It used to be that characters could have multiple volumes of adventures without it affecting them physically or emotionally. Fortunately, Britain recognizes that real people do not react in that way. In Firebrand, Karigan seems to be suffering through depression, if not outright post-traumatic stress disorder for much of the novel. Even in this state she continues to be stubborn in her refusal to give up or let anyone or anything get in the way of what she perceives as her duty.
Also, after six volumes of adventures, Karigan has perhaps become too capable and too powerful; in this book she learns how to use her power as avatar of the god of death to command spirits of the dead. This is on top of the mirror eye from the last book that causes people to experience visions. Fortunately, the author has a minor character, Anna the ash girl who in this volume becomes Karigan's protégé, as a future heroine in waiting.
Firebrand well suited for readers who enjoy traditional adventure fantasies. Older fans of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books will feel right at home, although the Green Rider series feels less aimed at adolescents. Readers who are willing to accept the slower-than-usual pacing will be rewarded by interesting characterization. Still, I think it would be interesting to see what this writer could do with a different main character or, even better, a whole new universe.