Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Publisher: Harper Teen, fiction

Young adult fiction author Cinda Williams Chima returns to the world she created in the bestselling Seven Realms series with Flamecaster, a book that begins the new Shattered Realms series that is set a generation later.

As I hadn’t read any of Chima’s previous work (nine books across two series, Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles), I didn’t know what to expect, especially after judging this book by its bodice-ripping/Jewel Of The Nile-type artwork cover.

But two chapters in, all that was forgotten and I was hooked. Within those 26 pages, she had me tearing up at the powerful death scene of a just-introduced character.

Chima sets the stage for a thoroughly enjoyable read by deftly weaving backstory and characterisation into her opening ploy.

Flamecaster is the story of young mage Adrian sul’Han and Jenna Bandelow, a girl with a mysterious birthmark and newly burgeoning powers. Both protagonists come with a strong supporting cast – from glib soldier Lila Barrowhill, with her quick wit and fighting prowess, to iniquitous King Gerard, whose chilling evil permeates the story, Chima populates her realm with a cross-section of relatable characters.

Feeling responsible for his father’s death, Adrian begins a journey to hone his powers until he’s strong enough to kill the man he believes ordered his father’s death: King Gerard. Jenna lives in a town that’s under the thumb of King Gerard. Starting life as a child miner, her existence is tough and gritty with the only bright spots being her two best friends – who King Gerard ends up killing right before her eyes.

Chima’s work shows some notable echoes of great fantasy authors like Robert Jordan (Wheel Of Time), George R.R. Martin (A Song Of Ice And Fire) and Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn), but her approach is to straddle a fine edge, using characterisations and plot twists that would otherwise verge on fanfiction in less capable hands.

For example, there are points that any Wheel Of Time fan will recognise: Flamecaster features magicians with powers channelled through amulets, and the characters give off a glow that’s seen by other gifted folk.

str2_leighflameR_ma_coverThere are also ways to collar a mage, to enslave them and press them into service. Finally, there’s a powerful empress across the sea with a large army that’s referred to but not yet seen.

Meanwhile, spying, political machinations, swordfights and poisoning abound, all things that Martin excels in.

But what’s satisfying is how Chima turns the familiar into her own and how she delivers the surprises even when you think you’ve guessed where she’s going.

She makes solid use of leaps in time, as we learn of the childhood events that lead Adrian and Jeanna on their murderous path, and then skip years ahead to land in the thick of action as they move towards their goal.

Each chapter jumps between character perspectives, too, allowing us insights into their motivations.

And I was pleasantly surprised to find fascinating LGBT characters in the book, something that many fantasy writers leave out in their world building.

As a gateway to the Shattered Realms world, Flamecaster is masterful. Chima’s pacing is taut as she sets up a subtle foreshadowing that pays off handsomely at the end.

The novel starts out strong and fast, and hurtles to a climax so satisfying that you’re breathless by the last page.

To keep this review free of spoilers, I won’t delve any more into specifics of the author’s choices, but suffice to say Chima makes Flamecaster a work unto its own.

I left the novel satisfied, entertained beyond belief, and I can’t wait for more. In the meantime, my solace will be her previous nine books.