Friday, 21 December 2012

Fantasy Review: 'Daughter of the Flames' by Zoë Marriott

This is a short but very readable young adult book, with the standard-issue feisty female lead, plenty of action, large dollops of angst and a romance at its heart. It doesn’t stray very far from fantasy conventions: the heroine is the heir to the kingdom, brought up in secret in a religious order, the only survivor of a massacre by the villain, and there’s no real-world messing about with giving him a believable personality or realistic motivations - he’s essentially barking mad. The plot is the usual series of set-piece narrow escapes and dramatic encounters, while the heroine gears up for her save-the-world role. This makes for a fast-paced roller-coaster ride, and it’s all fairly entertaining.

I do have a few issues. The secret of Zahira’s true identity is revealed in the opening chapter, so instead of the mystery of who she is, we get to wait patiently until the whole business is spelled out for her, which is a bit dull. Then there’s a great deal of angsting about something which we’ve known for ages. All rather tedious. Another irritant for me is that most of the book after the opening is first person, but there are occasional excursions into third person perspective to show the machinations of the villain of the piece. I found these transitions jarring. The main purpose of them seemed to be to show the king’s insanity, and to set up a little artificial tension by revealing plans that the heroine knows nothing about. Then there was Sorin, the love interest, who starts off charmingly laid back, becomes recklessly forceful and later has nothing very much to contribute apart from looking helpless and occasionally squeezing the heroine’s hand in an encouraging manner.

My main complaint, however, is the plot itself, which is incredibly simplistic. Zahira’s meeting with Sorin, his enlightened approach to ruling his people, the improbability of either of them trusting each other so implicitly and then - beyond stupidity - allowing themselves to be caught out in public, with no backup plan in mind. Crazy. And then the ending - even though it was nicely tense and I guessed what had to happen, I found the way it happened was unsatisfying, with none of the emotional resonance I would have hoped for from the situation.

But having said all that, the book is beautifully written, and rattles along very nicely. For those who can ignore the lack of depth and a high degree of implausibility in the plot, it’s an entertaining, if lightweight, read. Three stars.

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