Firebrand by Kristen Britain (Green Rider series: Book 6)

As I mentioned in the review for Mirror Sight, and as long-time Fantasy Book Review readers will know, Kristen Britain’s ‘Green Rider’ series is one of my all-time favourite series. The beautifully-written lead character, Karigan G'ladheon, and the concept of a group of messengers on horses serving their king and queen, combined to create a series of books I simply adored.

That adoration took a hit in early 2014 when I picked up Mirror Sight and promptly put it back down again, where it remained on the shelf for four years.

You can read more about my experiences with Mirror Sight here, but the primary reason I read the book was because Firebrand, the latest in Kristen Britain’s series, was published and arrived on my doorstep earlier this year, giving me an opportunity to rethink and return to one of my favourite fantasy worlds.

The sixth book in the series, Firebrand continues the story from where we left of at the end of Mirror Sight, with Karigan struggling to reintegrate herself into her original time and crippled by emotion and heartache. What I appreciated most about this was that the author allowed us to remain here for a while, allowing Karigan’s emotional journey to play a significant enough part of the book that it was given its own time to grow and play out. Many authors don’t allow the story to sit and be still, instead pushing it from climax to climax and never allowing the characters to recover, settle, and grow.

The first third of Firebrand – while not without elements of action and intrigue – is centred at the castle and focuses primarily on Karigan’s physical and mental healing. This was my favourite part of the book, not only because I love those sorts of preparatory and character development storylines, but also because I felt the second half of the book lost some of its direction and floundered a little in authorial contrivance.

Now, to be fair, I am more than willing to admit that I am hyper-aware of what I call authorial contrivance – when you can see the hand of the author directing events to achieve a specific outcome. I’ve read far too many books by authors who have managed to hide their involvement in the story, and as such am more likely now to pick it up than I might have been a decade ago.

The second half of Firebrand was not in itself a problem – I liked the quest that was set before Karigan and the interplay of characters back at the castle. I loved the interaction between Karigan and her travelling companions, and the introduction of Anna Ash and what she represents for the Riders. The extra mythical component that Britain is bringing into the story fascinates me, and really makes me excited for what comes next.

Unfortunately, what actually took place felt very disjointed and contrived – as if the author had a specific destination in mind but didn’t know how to reach it. The way that characters and storylines were paralleled made it seem more like they overlapped rather than interweaved with one another.

The reality is that I had a significant issue with King Zachary’s storyline and his involvement in other peoples’ storylines. Karigan’s mission – even if it were to be interrupted as it was – and the tertiary storylines that were lightly interspersed felt to me as if they would have been enough on their own. Zachary’s involvement not only felt forced but also contrived – as highlighted by his arrival north.

Now, I’ll admit, my biggest issue with this book was the normalisation of emotional and physical adultery – an issue I am aware not everyone will share with me, but one that nevertheless greatly impacted my enjoyment of this book. There has always been something between Karigan and Zachary, but it was allowed a lot more freedom and justification in this book, and that’s just something that strikes a wrong chord for me. I understand the benefit this storyline provides an author – drama, friction, discord, emotion, etc – but that doesn’t seem to me to be worth the palpable justification and approval I read.

If I’m honest with myself I really enjoyed this book except for the continuing justification of the relationship between Karigan and Zachary. I’m aware how much my opinion on the matter counts, and even how few are likely to agree with me, but I’m still the one writing this review and it’d be dishonest of me not to mention it. The book also finished well but, again, in a way that seemed to confirm the hop-scotch nature of how the book came together in the end.

Firebrand might not have been the prime example of why I loved this series so much through the first four books, but it definitely returned me to a world I loved in a way Mirror Sight didn’t and allowed me to spend time with one of my favourite characters as she faced her greatest challenge yet. I can’t wait for more.

7/10 Returned me to a world I loved in a way Mirror Sight didn't

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