Set in the world of the Seven Realms series, a generation later, Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima is a tale of magic, danger, espionage, and daring teens toeing the line between life and death as they push back at their oppressor. Flamecaster is a stunning debut to a new series by Cinda Williams Chima, picking up a quarter decade after the concluding events of the Seven Realms series. Cleverly written, and well executed, with just the right amount of intrigue and action, Flamecaster is not to be missed.
Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now he’s closer than ever to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. With time running out, Ash faces an excruciating choice: Can he use his powers not to save a life but to take it? Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the 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. Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the ruthless king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine (Summary from chapters.indigo.ca).
Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series set the bar pretty high when it came to a spin-off series; indeed, many YA Fantasy lovers have, in the past, adamantly stated that CWC’s Seven Realms series is among the best YA Fantasy series out there. Flamecaster, which picks up approximately twenty-five years after the conclusion of The Crimson Crown, tied itself directly to its predecessors through not only setting, but one of it’s main character, Adrian Sul’Han (Ash), the eldest son of Han and Raisa, the main protagonists of the Seven Realms series.
A bit of precedent – since the conclusion of The Crimson Crown, wherein Raisa spurned the King of Arden and married Han, the two have had three children – Hana Ana’Raisa, Adrian Sul’Han and Alyssa Ana’Raisa. At the beginning of Flamecaster, it is quickly explained that Hana Ana’Raisa, the eldest of the children and heir to the Queendom of the Fells, was killed in battle nearly six months prior – a battle that was part of a larger war that has raged with Arden since Raisa spurned the King nearly a quarter century earlier. Ash, Alyssa, Raisa and Han, along with the rest of the Queendom, are in mourning for their lost princess, and struggling as the effects of prolonged war are felt far and wide. Then another tragedy strikes, and Ash is forced to flee, leaving behind his title and what is left of his family for the safety and training of Oden’s Ford.
The characters introduced and developed in Flamecaster were exceptionally well-written and detailed. Primary among these characters are Ash, Jenna, Lila and Destin, although secondary characters also received their fair share of attention, depending upon their role and importance to the integrity of the plot.
- Adrian Sul’Han (Ash) is a wonderfully complex character who is struggling with the guilt and pain of loss, much of which he blames upon his own shortcomings as a son, as a brother, and as a Healer. As he strives to right the wrongs of the past, he grows as an individual, learning not only the art of healing, but also wizardry/magecraft, poisoning and espionage (the latter of which he does not exactly excel at). In his quest for revenge and to protect his family, Ash’s morals will be pushed to the brink as he seeks for a way to outplay his family’s greatest enemy, save those he loves and protect his mother’s Queendom from destruction.
- Jenna Bandelow is living in the heart of poverty in the mining settlement of Delphi, which is controlled by the ruthless King of Arden. She has magemark on the back of her neck, but no inkling of its meaning. Following a series of traumatic and life-altering events, Jenna joins the rebellion against the King of Arden, embracing the role of saboteur to gain retribution for the lives the King took from her. But her magemark, and the power that runs through her veins, cannot, and will not, be ignored – not by Jenna, and not by those who seek to harness her power for their own ends.
- Lila is an enigma. Early on, she saves Ash’s life, admitting to her knowledge of his true identity; then, she appears in Arden, a seemingly loyal member of his court, smuggling clan-made flashcraft into Arden for the King. She consistently claims to be one thing while acting the other, leaving the reader utterly bewildered regarding her true motivations until the very end.
- Destin is among the King of Arden’s most trusted advisers; as part of his clandestine service, like Lila, he knows more than most, and he has seen more than many. After failing to capture Ash at Oden’s Ford, the King of Arden sends him to Delphi to find and capture an unknown girl with a magemark, for undisclosed reasons. Eager to serve his King (or maybe simply to survive), Destin heads to Delphi to seek out the magemarked girl. Yet throughout Flamecaster, Destin’s motivations seemed muddled; he feels no true loyalty to his father, his respect for the King seems questionable, and like Lila, it seems that he operates outside what is expected of him, leaving his true motivations up in the air for the time being.
Beyond the richness of the characters, Cinda Williams Chima went above and beyond when it came to the storytelling, plot and writing quality within this novel. The plot, like CWC’s Seven Realms novels, is a winding, complex one, that left readers with many questions at the conclusion of Flamecaster, but with just enough answers to feel satiated for the time being. While the plot itself was not overly action-laden, especially for the brunt of the middle portion of the book, the character interactions and small reveals more than made up for it.
- Quick quips, snarky responses and intense dialogue are intermingled flawlessly, creating a very real and personable feeling when it comes to the dialogue between characters.
- Building upon this, each primary characters, such as Ash, Jenna or Lila, has their own unique mannerisms and tone of speech, which adds to the complexity and depth of the story.
- Descriptions of setting and events are well detailed, yet not so detailed that the reader feels overwhelmed by a sudden info-dump. One example of CWC’s prowess at this is her slow introduction of information for the Seven Realms series – she does not dump everything on readers at once, but slowly introduces aspects as they become relevant to the plot, building the world deftly but with a soft-hand.
- Twists and turns are an integral part of most of CWC’s novels – Flamecaster is no exception. While the reader may expect the plot to go one way, it often goes the other, especially in regards to character motivations. That being said, sometimes the plot goes exactly as one would expect it to go (as with Ash’s trajectory), leaving the reader constantly on edge, wondering when the next upheaval will occur.
Overall, Flamecaster was an exceptionally well-written book, with many memorable characters, whose interactions and actions bring a depth to the plot and to the Seven Realms world. The plot, despite it’s slow pace in the middle portion of the novel, holds the interest of the reader through character interactions and small twists and turns, all of which lead, inextricably, to the monumental conclusion of this novel, which will leave readers reeling with unanswered questions. (4.5/5)