Firebrand, by Gillian Philip

Firebrand, by Gillian Philip  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Author’s website
Publication date – February 19, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It’s the last decade of the sixteenth century: a time of religious wars in the full-mortal world. But the Sidhe are at peace, hidden behind the Veil that protects their world – until their queen, Kate NicNicven, determines to destroy it.

Seth MacGregor is the half-feral son of a Sidhe nobleman. When his father is assassinated, and Seth is exiled with his brother Conal to the full-mortal world, they vow not only to survive, but to return to reclaim their fortress and save the Veil.

But even the Veil’s power can’t protect the brothers when the brutal witch-hunts begin…

Thoughts: I was initially of two minds about this book. Before I’d gotten around to reading it, I’d seen a lot of mixed reviews, some saying it was a really good book, others saying it was a huge disappointment. One person commented that many of the disappointment reviewers may have gone into it thinking it was a typical urban fantasy, and were thus let down when there was nothing of the sort in the book’s pages. (Not sure how they could have thought that about the book, seeing as how the summary says, quite plainly, “It’s the last decade of the sixteenth century.” It would be historical fantasy, really, not what we commonly think of as urban fantasy…) Regardless, I knew it was going to be one of those books that ultimately, I’d have to read for myself to discover where my personal truth lay.

And I’m very glad I did.

Had it been a typical urban fantasy novel involving sidhe, I would have been disappointed. Instead, it was quite an engaging historical fantasy, taking place both in this world and the world of the Sidhe, beyond the Veil that keeps the two worlds separate. Not only that, but it was notable for having a male protagonist and also being told from the first-person POV (most first-person perspectives involve female protagonists, for reasons I have yet to be able to figure out).

The story can best be described an a coming-of-age tale from the perspective as Seth, a bastard child and mostly unwanted and barely tolerated by all but a few. But he’s far from a bog-standard sympathetic character, as he’s got a fire to him that means he doesn’t take this lying down, and instead makes a point of proving his worth in every way he can. Paired up with his brother, Conal, the two make an interesting and balanced set of characters that are fun to read about and very easy to get invested in.

One drawback is that not all the characters get this same kind of development. While that’s to be expected in some ways (main characters naturally get more page time and more development than those who aren’t seen as often), some of the secondary characters felt a bit flat. Not quite cardboard cutouts of characters, or generic, but there just wasn’t the same spark of life to them that Seth and Conal had. And given that some of these characters hold large pieces of the plot in their hands, it was difficult at times to really get a feel for why we’re supposed to be so afraid of this character, or feel sympathy for tha character. There was enough detail to distinguish them from each other, but not much more than that.

There was also a good deal of social and political commentary running through the book, comparing 16th century Europeans with the more enlightened sidhe. The sidhe hold males and females to be equals, allow people to choose their mates regardless of gender, etc. It struck me that this wasn’t quite so much a commentary on politics of the past as the politics of today, where there’s still an ongoing debate over gender and sexual equality. Fortunately, Philip didn’t beat the reader over the head with this, instead working it into the story quite well and letting the society be shown, rather than just talked about. Couching it in terms of humanity’s past just made it easier to do a compare-and-contrast, especially when the setting is a time of witchburnings and religious turmoil.

Seth’s story, from his early years to his banishment in the mortal world, to his involvement in a plot to tear down the Veil between worlds, was fast-paced and beautifully smooth, carrying the reader along on a wild ride that doesn’t let up for a moment. This is a book that I think is a must-have for fans of historical fantasy, and for those who are looking for something more substantial in their fey than usual. It was far more enjoyable than I’d expected from some reviews, and well worth the time I spent on it. I’m already eagerly awaiting the next installment of the series, and I don’t doubt that it’s going to be just as good as this one.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

2 comments on “Firebrand, by Gillian Philip

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Books Read in the 1st Half of 2013 | Bibliotropic

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