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“But people—we act like we do. We write that bad ending before we even get there,” Jenna. —Flamecaster
Shattered Realms #1
by Cinda Williams Chima
Set in the world of Chima’s critically acclaimed Seven Realms series, Flamecaster is the beginning of an exciting new series full of suspense, magic, love, and danger. War has overtaken the realm, leaving two young, yet determined characters on their own in their fight against the cruel king of Arden.
Ash wants nothing more than to get back at the king that murdered his father. But after he’s forced into hiding, that goal only gets farther out of reach. Once he gets close to his father’s murderer, will he succeed in getting revenge? Or will he sacrifice his life for nothing?
Ash isn’t alone in his hunt for revenge. For as long as she’s known, Jenna Bandelow has had a strange magemark on the back of her neck. When the King’s Guard begins hunting for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna must figure out why she’s being hunted. Does it simply have to do with the fact she’s been fighting against the king of Arden? Or is it something more? Danger lurks around every corner, and Ash and Jenna will need each other if they are to survive.
Flamecaster, a fantastic first book in the Shattered Realms Series, follows Ash’s and Jenna’s quest to take down the ruthless King Gerard. The engaging story is full of wizards, intrigue, revenge, and multifaceted characters. Both Ash and Jenna are interesting, complex characters who become King Gerard’s victims and lose those they love. Told from both Ash’s and Jenna’s point of view, it’s easy to understand each of their motivations as they grow and become obsessed with killing King Gerard. Both are angry and hateful after King Gerard kills people they love, which fuels their desire for revenge. While working towards their ultimate goal, each finds themselves alone, yet determined. Flamecaster weaves a compelling mystery, but doesn’t conclude with a typical resolution. Instead, some of the story arc is left with unanswered questions which will leave the reader eager to read the next book in the series, Shadowcaster.
Chima’s expert storytelling allows the story to unfold gradually and with humor. Even though the story pairs Ash and Jenna as lovers, the focus remains on survival and intrigue. Another positive aspect of Flamecaster is the world-building, which builds on the previous series, the Seven Realms series. This is constantly in the background, as the war personally impacts both Ash and Jenna. Through the war, religious and cultural differences between the two nations emerge. This highlights how in the Fells wizards are free and help rule over the Queendom, yet in Arden wizards are enslaved and distrusted. Overall, the backdrop serves well to push the story forward.
The theme of revenge is prevalent, as both Ash and Jenna are fueled by their desire to get revenge against King Gerard. Luckily this theme isn’t overbearing, and is paired well with the theme of hope. The universal theme of hope wins out in the end, as Ash and Jenna learn to overcome their doubts and survive their time in Arden. Flamecaster is both fast paced and engaging, a story that will entertain both Chimas’s loyal fans as well as readers new to the fantasy series.
- Ash was in a relationship while attending an academy. He thinks, “Suze was a plebe at Isenwerk. She and Ash had walked out together for a few months, but had recently called it quits. At least he had.”
- In the past, King Gerard attempted to marry the Queen of the Fells. Ash’s father says, “Your mother rejected him in a very public way.”
- Ash comes to buy poisons from Taliesin, his mentor. She tells him, “Other young men your age come to me seeking love potions. I suppose you’re not in need of those.”
- During a staged fortune-telling, a seer tells a young man the fortune, “says, ‘I’m not going to sleep with you anymore, you faithless bastard.’”
- Someone says “The northerners spend their days picking wildflowers and dreaming and their nights fornicating under the stars.”
- Ash and Jenna share a romance. After making love, Jenna tells Ash, “It’s just—in Bruinswallow, I think we’d be considered married.” The love making isn’t described, only implied. Later, Ash thinks about his feelings for Jenna, “I am in love with this girl.”
- In a confrontation with King Gerard, Ash sees him die. Ash, “flattened himself against the tower wall to avoid being struck as the king screamed past him like a falling star. The screaming ended abruptly when he hit bottom.”
- While battling priests, Ash kills some of them. Ash attacks one priest and “immolated him before he hit the floor.”
- Ash is a trained killer. Ash thinks that he is “good with poisons, garrotes, and the small daggers known as shivs. Poisons were his weapons of choice.” Later, Ash tells someone, “Consider how many premature deaths I’m preventing. The lives I take are balanced by those I save.”
- A young boy throws some sort of powder in Ash’s eyes. “When the trailing edge of it caught him [Ash] in the face and in the eyes, it was as if someone had taken a torch to him.”
- Ash is forced to put down a horse. Ash, “insisted on doing it himself, by using magic to stop the blood as it rushed through the great artery in his neck. It was a painless death, as far as he could tell, but that didn’t make it any easier.”
- In a conversation about Delphi, Clermont, a Guard Captain, says, “When things get really bad, I just kill a few Delphian rats. That never fails to raise my spirits.”
- During a royal party, one of the king’s thanes kills some of the king’s guard. The thane “turned, a blade in each hand, and cut the throats of the blackbirds nearest to him.”
- King Gerard has his mistress killed. Ash remembers, “But Estelle was dead—killed for the crime of hosting an assassination attempt on the king.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- At a tavern at an academy, Lila sees a fellow student drunkenly fall into a chair. She watches as, “He all but fell into it, clunking his mug down on the table. It was nearly empty.”
- Ash thinks about Lila, his classmate. “Drunk or sober, Lila didn’t miss much.” Just after that, Lila says, “A girl can learn a lot from a drunken southerner.”
- After a fire breaks out in the palace kitchens, Ash, “realized that Hamon was blaming himself and his drinking for the fire.”
- Destin notices that “The more Clermont drank, the louder he talked.”
- Lila calls a fellow student, “Ardenine swine.”
- Ass is used frequently. For example, someone tells Ash, “You have to keep moving or grow a crop of moss on your ass.”
- King Gerard calls his queen, “You stupid slut of Tamron.”
- Clermont, a guard captain in the city of Delphi, cusses out a waitress. He says, “You tell that insolent whey-faced tavern rat. . .”
- Marin Karn, Destin’s father, talks about Lila. He says, “The bitch has a mouth on her that’s going to cost her if she isn’t careful.”
- Wizards, also known as mages, are commonplace. They are not welcomed in every country. Ash Hanson and Destin Karn are wizards. Ash thinks, “Wizards were arrogant by nature.”
- Wizards often see a glow around other wizards. Ash notes, “Western wizards glowed a cool bluish-white. Strangward’s aura came closest to that. He lit up the entire room with a brilliant white glow. The other delegates glowed a faint red, like dying coal.”
- Talismans often are used as protection against magic. When Lilia is interrogated by a mage, “The Talisman at her neck sizzled against her skin. Protection against magic.”
- Talismans are usually created by the Clans in the Fells. Lila thinks, “Crafted of rowan, ebony, and ivory, it had been given to her by her clan friend and sometime partner, Shadow Dancer.”
- Dealing with a wounded ankle, Ash thinks, “A wizard can’t use his gift to heal himself.”
- In Arden, Wizards are shunned and are generally considered to be demons. When King Gerard confronts Ash about being a “demon,” Ash says, “Hang on—you think I’m an actual demon?”
- Destin often uses magic to interrogate people. Destin thinks, “That made torture unnecessary for the most part, unless he was dealing with other mages, who could resist his mind magic.”
- When trying to interrogate a boy, Destin “released magic into him, let if flow as if to fill him up, then reached through it to find the boy’s mind. And couldn’t. He tried again, and it was like searching an empty room.”
- Jenna has a unique ability to speak to dragons. When Flamecaster, a dragon, speaks to her, she thinks, “At first, she thought he [the dragon] was asking for help, but then she realized that it was offering help.”
- Arden is heavily influenced by the Church of Malthus, the dominant religion. God is the main deity of the Church of Malthus.
- The Maker is the main god of the Fells, a nation to the north. Jenna Bandelow tells her father, “The Maker helps those who help themselves, isn’t that what you said?”
- King Gerard asks of one of his subjects, “Are you saying that you will not submit to the command of your sovereign, anointed by God?”
- Ash saves the palace cook, Hamon, from a fire. Hamon says, “They say it was a miracle. Come here, my boy, so I can feel of you, for surely you were the instrument of Holy Malthus in this.”
- The Church of Malthus paints mages as demonic. Someone says, “Magic, my lord? I want nothing to do with that. The Fathers say that mages are idolators and devils.”
- Priests of the Church of Malthus are often referred to as crows. Someone says, “Those black-robed crows of Malthus can prattle on about martyrdom and Paradise all they want. I’m not signing on.”
by Jonathan Planman