Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Series: Shattered Realms #!
Published: April 5 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
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 Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?
Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the mysterious 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 king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.
Set in the world of the acclaimed Seven Realms series a generation later, this is a thrilling story of dark magic, chilling threats, and two unforgettable characters walking a knife-sharp line between life and death.
I had been anticipating and dreading (anticidreading? Dreadipating?) this novel for months before I actually cracked the cover. The premise itself is upsetting (who shattered the realms, damnit? RAISA WORKED REALLY HARD FOR FOUR BOOKS...) and well, Cinda Williams Chima has shown that she isn't an author that pulls her punches. Readers are going to either love the risks and changes the author chose to take in Flamecaster, or they're going to resent the fact they were made or present at all. There is no in-between, but for 535 pages, Chima really does her best to suck you back into the magic of her previous series of YA fantasy novels.
Sadly for me, Chima's attempts were unsuccessful. I never really felt the magic work for the first Shattered Realms book that I did for her others. It took a while for the first Seven Realms series of books to evolve into favorite status, but even with its opening novel, The Demon King, was sturdier, more creative, and more tightly plotted. Then, I was interested if not 100% invested in that series beginner at its conclusion. Here, though, my reaction was largely one of apathy or frustration when I was supposed to be anxious or involved. I was dismayed by my lack of investment when before I had FEELINGS about nearly all the characters in Chima's books. Here my FEELINGS were all of a less-than-favorable bent.
A lot of my disconnect is due to the lack of meaningful characterization for the new characters introduced: Ash, Jenna, and Lila. Ash's actions at the beginning of the book -- which is used to distance himself from his family -- make ZERO sense. There's no way he could run away like that. It's not feasible for who he is --- or for who his mother is. Jenna's plot is obvious from the moment it intersects with another player's which renders her entire arc pretty dull and predictable. Lila is the one with a bit of depth and intrigue to her development, but is given even less time on the page than the other two. I wanted to ship the romance that springs up between two key players, but I couldn't because it evolves in about two meetings of those involved characters. It's the opposite of the slow-burn of Raisa and Han's relationship and it just 100% does not work.
There were two other main issues I had with Flamecaster while reading: it's just too long and too little happens in that span of pages to make it worth the time and attention. There's a lot of waiting, a lot of time spent of Ash and Jenna and Lila making plans and reacting to other character's plotlines. At 535 pages total, there are timesn that action element does show up -- the very beginning and mostly at the end -- isn't enough to keep the story moving, or to keep the tension high. Yes, there are dragons (aka one whole star out of the two I gave the novel) and yes there are moments of awesome interspersed throughout the novel, but it never really comes together in a cohesive manner.
It's probably unfair to judge Flamecaster by a different series of books, but it's impossible not to when the quality levels are so uneven. Chima can and has written a great fantasy story. She can do so again, but even for a veteran author, this newest effort is a miss. There's a of time required to get to those mentioned moments of payout, and I can't honestly say this novel is worth it. Book two may prove me wrong, but this was not an auspicious start the series.