Review of KINDLE novella Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan


The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command.

There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

And this female warrior springs into life, full of fury, not knowing who she is or where she comes from – but bound by magic to the rather frightened mage who summons her. So… as a reader, do I care about her? After all, I haven’t a clue who she is or what she stands for – other than the fact that they are all very frightened of her and she would dearly like to do them bloody harm. What about learning of her backstory to pull me into her world and make me bond with her? Nope – that can’t happen. She doesn’t know so much as her name. But, yes – I care, alright.

As she struggles to make sense of what is going on, she quickly becomes subsumed with her quest. Which she only has the haziest notion about – and the mage warns her that she shouldn’t try to find out too much, or it will be used against her. Yet Brennan still managed to pull me into this violent, threat-filled world we see through the viewpoint of a magically bound warrior, who can’t even recall her name. It takes serious writing chops to pull off such a feat – so many of the usual techniques used to make readers bond with main characters are simply off the table with this scenario.

But what is in abundance is punchy, strong writing in this epic, classic warrior story. Brennan draws on all our memories of heroic warriors stretching back as far as Beowulf and King Arthur and evokes echoes of those stories with her elevated language. It’s nicely done – too much would have just come off as pretentious and annoying, while not enough would haven’t given this tale the gravitas necessary to keep the stakes so high and pull us in.

As it is, I was hooked right from the dramatic moment of her summoning as she struggles against the magical bindings while trying to work out who she is – and then manages to sustain that tension and threat throughout. As for me – I could no more put this one down until it was finished than flap my wings and fly around the room… I was caught up in the story, while also trying to figure exactly how Brennan sank her hooks so deeply into me with such a tricky, violent character.

I was also a tad concerned that by the end, I still would be as much in the dark as I was at the start – which would have probably had me hurling my Kindle across the room. But Brennan knows how to play fair with her readers and the quest was brought to a satisfactory ending, while also providing us with some information about our mysterious female warrior – which of course, I’m not going to divulge as it would be a spoiler. This one comes highly recommended.

17 responses »

    • How interesting – my Hunger Games cover features a burning arrow and a mockingjay symbol. I am constantly surprised at just how different UK and US book covers can be!

      • I do not know if the Kindle novel cover resembles the Hunger Games book cover. The picture of the young girl with the bow and arrow reminded me of Catliss (sp?) IN the Hunger Games book. Sorry for the mis-communication. Just shows how easily e-mail comments fail.

      • Ah… NOW I understand:). Ree is WAY more scarier and more magical than Katniss, I think. Have a great week-end, Rae:)

  1. I really need to read Marie Brennan’s work at some point. Either this novella (if it’s available in print) or her Lady Trent series. I think this story in particular has gotten a lot of positive reviews, in addition to yours here.

  2. I love the sound of this one and I have had my eye on it for a while – but I’m being careful at the moment so I’ll add this one to my wishlist for now.
    Lynn 😀

  3. That sounds pretty vague how you describe the story with her having a guest and not knowing much about herself, but then the author can still make you care about her. That does sound impressive. And how this one kept your attention, I can only imagine it must have some great writing to pull that all of. And that does sound neat how at the end you do know a bit more. I hope the next books in the series are just as good! Great review!

    • This one certainly demonstrates Marie Brennan’s writing skills. I have read the second book in the series and though it was okay – I didn’t think it was as good as this one. But then, this is an exceptional read.

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