FIREBRAND by Gillian Philip


From the "Rebel Angels" series, volume 1
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First in an otherworld fantasy trilogy, nominally for young adults, that first appeared in the U.K. in 2010, from the author of Opposite of Amber (2011, etc.).

In a dramatically arresting opening scene, we meet young Sidhe narrator Seth MacGregor as he aims a crossbow bolt at the head of his beloved older half brother Conal in order to save him the agony of being burned at the stake as a witch. How he reaches this point occupies the first half of the book. The realms of the immortal Sidhe and mortal humans are separated by a magical barrier, the Veil, created in the distant past by Sidhe witches, and time flows differently on either side. Seth and Conal are sons of Sidhe clan leader Griogair. Conal's mother, the witch Leonora, is Griogair's bonded partner, while Seth's is the cruel and vindictive Lilith, adviser to the Sidhe queen, Kate NicNiven, who nurses ambitions to destroy the Veil (but to what end?). At 8 years of age, Lilith sent Seth to live in his father's dun, where he was ignored and belittled until Conal befriended him. Despite Conal’s reassuring presence, Seth burns with rage and resentment; only his loyalty to Conal keeps him from self-destruction. Later, thanks to royal intrigue, Conal and Seth are exiled to the mortal realm, where they find themselves in a grim late-16th-century Scotland. Although they attempt to live quietly, compassionate Conal practices minor healing arts, but even these attract the unwanted attention of the new priest—a fanatical witch-burner who, the brothers are intrigued to learn, may not even be human. And thus we reach that arresting opening. Set forth in gritty, visceral detail, along with a few anachronisms (“When do they plan to evolve?” Seth wonders of the benighted Scots), curses, sex, violence and drinking, Seth grows in stature, understanding and empathy while learning to wield his rage as a weapon. One minor drawback: much of the deeper plotting takes place offstage.

As ferociously compelling as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, with which it invites comparison.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3322-3
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Tor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2013


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