Book Review: Cold-Forged Flame (Ree Varekai #1), Marie Brennan (2016)

October 17th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“The more you remember … the more you might end up losing.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through NetGalley.)

The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need. And so, in reply, there is a woman.

Who has she been, that she recalls so many revolutions?

A woman wakes on a slab of stone, surrounded by the strangers who summoned her. She has no memories, no sense of self, no compass pointing her home … assuming she has one to go to. What she does posses are quick reflexes, a warrior’s instinct, and a healthy distrust of those who bound her to their will, brought her into being to serve as a tool, or a slave.

Her task: retrieve a vial of blood from the cauldron of the Lhian. If she succeeds, she will earn her freedom. Failure means death.

Lhian’s cauldron is located in a cave, in a mountain, on an island. But this is no ordinary island; rather, it’s a place where the landscape shifts and changes, sabers are made of moonlight, and dreams turned sour manifest as physical beasts that can fell a flesh and blood human. The island may or may not be a sentient being, testing those who dare set foot upon it. Either way, the forest has eyes. Yet the narrator’s greatest obstacle may very well be herself – the self she doesn’t know, cannot grasp, isn’t sure she even wants to.

Marie Brennan doesn’t waste a single moment in this novella (which really reads more like a short story; can it really be 112 pages long?): she plunges you right into the world of Ree Varekai and barely lets you up for air. The world building – at least as far as the island goes – is impressive, if not stunning. I loved the island’s mercurial nature: the many tailored challenges it devises for the would-be heroes that wash ashore; the harsh cliff faces and dense forest, neither of which can be trusted; and the dream-monsters, especially.

The narrator is the only character with a developed voice, but she’s engaging and complex and shows tremendous growth in so few pages. While revenge is a tempting prospect – and oh, how I love me a Roaring Rampage – the ending is more nuanced and compassionate than you’d perhaps expect.

Aadet Temini – a would-be revolutionary she partners with along the way – has great potential as well; I hope we’ll see more of him in the sequel. (Brennan definitely sets it up this way.)

It’s difficult to reveal much more without spoiling the story, but suffice it to say that this is a weird and surreal read that’s perfect for fantasy fans. Yet it’s not so heavily fantasy that science fiction fans can’t enjoy it as well. (I lean more heavily towards the SF part of the SFF equation, and I quite enjoyed it.) Ditto: those who just love a good amnesia-fueled mystery.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: The narrator and the nine people who summon her are described as pale; them, a little more so than her.

The man she meets on her quest, Aadet Temini, is slightly darker: “Different from the Cruais’s people: his skin is a shade darker than her own, his hair equally black, but loosely curled.” He’s clearly a traveler from far away, as evidenced by his strange (to her) accent.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a


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