Micklem’s people-centered fantasy debut is the first volume of a projected trilogy.
Rather than allow Sire Pava of the Blood to claim her, stunning redhead Firethorn of the mudfolk flees into the forest, barely surviving by foraging for plants—though she does acquire some small magic skills. She returns to the village during the “Upside-Down Days,” when all social norms and restraints are set aside; beguiled by the handsome Blood warrior Sire Galan, Firethorn accompanies him to the Marchfield, where the various clans that comprise the king’s army practice their skills and toughen themselves for battle, as his bedmate or “sheath.” Firethorn earns the fierce contempt of Galan’s clan leader, the Crux, for following her lover. Recklessly, Galan makes a wager that he can seduce Vulpeja, a maid from a rival clan, but the consequences of this act poison relations between the two clans and lead to a blood feud. The Crux orders Galan to forfeit his horse and thereafter forbids him to ride, though his chances of surviving a battle on foot are virtually nil. As the feud smolders on, Galan’s armiger, his cousin Rodela, conceives a virulent hatred for Firethorn because she informs Galan when Rodela kills a rival clansman and dishonorably desecrates the man’s corpse, thereby earning the enmity of the dead man’s shade. Firethorn, with her loyalty, her wits, and her magic—she can see in the dark, leave her body and travel as a shadow, draw fire, and give warmth—must survive as best she can, for she has magically bound herself to Galan and cannot abandon him.
Gritty, sinewy, exceptionally well researched, and highly impressive.