After Ana read and enjoyed Zoe Marriott’s most recent offering Shadows on the Moon (a great retelling of Cinderella), we decided to try a few of her backlist titles. We picked Daughter of the Flames because the book was recently rereleased in the UK featuring a strikingly attractive cover (shown here).

Zira is the youngest daughter of Rua’s Royal Family and the line’s only survivor. On the terrible night that Rua was seized by the tyrannical Sedorne king, Zira’s entire family was killed in a fire that raged across the kingdom. Saved by a loyal nursemaid who brought the young princess to sanctuary at the temple devoted to Rua’s Goddess, Zira narrowly escaped death, but is marred by scars that cover half her face.

Read the last Book Smugglers on their list of best sci fi and fantasy books so far in 2012.

The years pass with Zira hidden safely away at the temple, where she is raised as an aspiring warrior with no memories of her past or heritage. But tragedy strikes once again when the temple is attacked, her surrogate mother is killed, and Zira learns at last that she is the rightful heir to the throne. The time has come to Zira to remember her past, accept her role in liberating her people, even if it means forging an alliance with a man who should be her enemy.  

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daughter of flames Ana’s Take

To start on a positive note, the bare bones of Daughter of the Flames (U.S. cover to left) are pretty good. Despite its familiar premise (an orphan who is actually the heir to the throne, etc.), the story is infused with originality in terms of its religious system, and I love the main character’s superb fighting skills, the action sequences being the best thing about the novel. Not to mention that the book tried to provide a diverse setting with a multitude of characters with different skin colors (although that aspect of the book comes with its share of problems, but more on that below).

The story progresses as one would expect from such a familiar premise, with minor hiccups in terms of contrivances, but my biggest problems with the novel come from character development or rather, the lack of it. Zira has the potential to be a brilliant character. Her struggle to live with her scars, her determination to be a good Warrior and eventually a good leader to her people, the tough decisions that she makes including her falling in love and trusting a man she shouldn’t, are great aspects of the story. Unfortunately those are developed with a tendency to the telling rather than the showing, rushing through the most important decisions and moments of her life as though the emotional side of the story was not as important as getting back to the thick of action. 

As an example, when Zira recovers her memories, she says she feels as though she has been split into two different personalities, but this is never truly expressed in terms of story, and it doesn’t seem to have a real effect to the plot or the character herself, until a few pages later she says she is now whole. Again, that has little effect in the way the character behaves. This has the unfortunate effect of making any attempt to explore possible themes such as identity, memory, birthright and destiny lack any real depth, to the point of where, at times, I thought I was reading the summary of a novel. 

Unfortunately, Daughter of the Flames turned out to be a disappointment. 

In Book Smugglerish: 4 – Bad but not without some merit. 

Thea’s Take

Daughter of the Flames is my first Marriott novel, which I began reading with great verve. An Asian-inspired fantasy setting! A conflicted, person-of-color heroine! Epic fight sequences! HUZZAH! My enthusiasm, however, was incredibly short-lived. Daughter of the Flames is utterly familiar and clichéd, featuring a contrived insta-romance, stock characters that verge on comical and a sadly hollow heroine.

The basic premise for the novel, an orphan who secretly is heir to the kingdom and will fight to take it back, is a familiar one, which is not a bad trope per se. The problem, however, is that the rest of the story follows the same tired linear progression, i.e. hero loses riches and family as a child and becomes orphan, hero grows up training/becoming a badass, hero loses everything AGAIN and discovers true heritage, hero thwarts villain and takes back kingdom and finds a love interest along the way, naturally.

Such is Daughter of the Flames. While a familiar story can be saved by nuanced characters and writing, neither of these lifelines is present. The heroine is strangely wooden, for all of the potential for gravitas and depth, her love interest even less interesting. The villain of the piece is decidedly one-note and comical. Upon first meeting him, he burns a flower (SYMBOLISM, GET IT?!?!), and in the afterglow, I quote, “His face, dappled with shadow by the undulating flames, was clenched in what might have been pain or ecstasy. He did not look away until there was nothing left." Seriously. The not-so-subtle flame analogies are present throughout the novel.  For example, instead of cursing, characters use charming euphemisms like “scorch it!” or “burn it!”, exacerbating the situation.

One final note, I was drawn to this book in part because it features a heroine that is a person of color in an Asian-inspired land. Our heroine actually turns out to be a blue-eyed, half-Sedorne (that is to say, Caucasian) character. While I understand that this was a heavy-handed attempt on the author’s part to show how Zira represents BALANCE! and can UNITE THE SUNDERED KINGDOMS!, it’s also troubling and indicative of a larger, more pervasive problem in SFF.

Suffice it to say, Daughter of the Flames failed to kindle my interest (see what I did there?!). I’ll give Marriott another try in the future, but sadly this book did not work on any level for me.

In Book Smugglerish: DNF, or Did Not Finish after approximately 200 pp.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can find also find them at Twitter.