I’ve just finished reading Firebrand by Gillian Philip.  And I’ll read it again.  Soon.  It was brilliant.

It’s one of those seemingly rare YA books that isn’t Twilight with aliens, Twilight with werewolves or Twilight with more vampires.  Not that I have anything against Twilight (I respect Stephanie Meyer for discovering, like a modern-day alchemist, ‘that’ formula.  She breaks so many rules with her book, but it is a complete success – you can’t put it down, you have to read the sequels.  She’s genius).  However, I have discovered, that, just as with the iniqitous French Fancy, although delicious, there are really only so many YA romance novels you can consume in one sitting without feeling that little bit, well … nauseated!

I’d seen a review for Firebrand and it sounded great.  I wanted to read it.  But strangely, given the number of excellent reviews I’ve seen for the book, I couldn’t get hold of it from my local library (there was one copy coming into the area and a huge waiting list for it already) and it wasn’t stocked in my local Waterstones.  It was the same with Sarwat Chadda’s Dark Goddess – what is it with books that review well, but aren’t selling / being stocked?  A topic for another post I think.

Anyway, Amazon took it’s usual sweet time with the delivery, so although I ordered the book at the end of December, it only arrived a couple of days ago … and yes, I’ve already finished it.

The opening of this novel may be the best I’ve read.  The writing is immediately brilliant, hitting it’s stride straight away and getting the reader right into the scene,without any of that familiar awkward ‘getting to know you’ phase.  And what a scene it is … one brother, with a crossbow, preparing to shoot his older sibling to prevent him from having to burn alive.  His finger tightens on the trigger … then flashback.  Aaaargh. Obviously I immediately flicked to the end to find out if Conal lives or dies (because I’m that annoying person who does that), but it wasn’t clear enough what with the time hopping about I’d already seen, so I had to read the rest of the book at a rate of knots to find out.

Gillian Philip does characterisation fantastically – the reader quickly comes to love Seth and then Conal and their friends.  Their’s is a world that should be familiar to fantasy readers (they live in a dunn, with a lord and so forth) but they’re not human, they’re sithe (kind of like faeries) and their queen is insane and cruel.  Philip appears to have no compunctions about what she (or rather the queen) does to her characters (ones we known and like) … and that makes you worry that little bit more about Conal’s chances of surviving that pyre.

When Seth and Conal enter the human world at the end of the sixteenth century, they are plunged into a superstitious time and faced with witch trials.  Philip scared the heebies out of me with the witch hunt and subsequent burnings. But it was made more scary because it actually happened – people really did behave like that.

Seth and Conal are depicted as ‘other’ (they’re telepathic sithe, rather than full-mortal) with their perspective on that time, but they are also fully involved.  Conal, no different than the other prisoners, will be tortured and will die just like them, will break and confess, just like them.  By bringing the perspective of the alien other, so close to one of many shameful times in human history and closing it down, Philip brings the reader up close too.

As with Duey’s books, I had to take breaks because some of the scenes were quite harrowing.  But I always went quickly back … and so should you.  Philip has it all.  Fantastic scene setting, a lovely writing style, a rollicking story and pace, characters with depth who the reader absolutely loves (or hates) and brilliant weaving of mythology and reality.

This book is worth reading.

Demand your local bookshop gets you a copy (and while you’re at it you could ask for Dark Goddess and Skin Hunger too) and maybe we can start working on the odd stocking decisions of these places before I blog about it again.

  1. Thanks so much, Bryony! Really thrilled you liked Firebrand (despite me having no compunctions about what I do to my poor characters!) I really appreciate your lovely review.

    • I’ve put the review on Amazon too, if that’s OK. It’s a brilliant book, I can’t wait for the sequel.

    • Belle Medland
    • January 21st, 2011

    Wow! Sufficiently intrigued following this review. I shall be trying to get this book in time for the weekend (so, today then!).

    • Hope you like it as much as I did. Let me know what you think. Bx

        • Belle Medland
        • January 21st, 2011

        I certainly will. Be looking up Angel’s Fury, too! Looking forward to it – shame we have to wait until July though!! Lol x

  2. I’m looking forward to it too – believe me! Bx

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