A Flame Forged Lukewarm
This feels like a writing experiment gone wrong. The beginning scene, the opening concept of the novella (because at 100 pages this is not nearly a novel!) is compelling: a warrior woman appears, summoned by need, with no idea of who she is or what she is to do. But from there… she doesn’t go on to learn much about herself, or change in interesting ways, or get embroiled in an exciting plot, unravel a mystery, or even wander a fantasy world so unique and richly imagined we don’t really mind there’s not much story or character. Instead, the world remains sketchy, the character remains too indistinct to have much at stake, the plot feels unplanned and episodic, and rather than build to a big reveal or twist, the climax comes without much preparation or emotional punch, like a birthday cake delivered a week too soon.
It’s the first of a series, so perhaps the setting and plot will deepen, the character will flesh out, and the depth that feels lacking here will turn out to be necessary for what comes next. But we can’t help think of other stories with similar premises—Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Bound Man” starts off with another woman summoned from need and not knowing herself well, and Neal Gaiman’s “Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” features characters on a strange quest to a stranger island and a cave there. Both of these accomplish more in less words, tying up tight tales with lots of depth to setting and character. So while the series may pan out better, and there’s no doubt Brennan has a devoted following for her full-length novels, it’s hard to recommend Cold-Forged Flame when there are so many other great stories to read.
A fantasy lover since Tolkien in third grade, Levi has been published in several magazines, including Lakeside Circus, Perihelion SF, and Spark: A Creative Anthology. He is currently at work on a novel--fantasy, of course.