Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Apr 9, 2016
There are two things you should know about this novella.

The first is the premise. This is the story of a woman who wakes one startled moment to a summoning horn, without name or memory or even free-will, because she has been compelled to obey her summoner. The task in front of her leads her to an island and foe that is malevolent, cunning, and nigh-godlike. Victory - freedom - requires sacrifice. But what can be the price for one who has nothing?

In other words, it is fantasy to the core, pure and wild.

The second is the prose style. Those who've read her books know that Brennan has a way with words to say the least, and here she adopts a very close third person style that might as well be first. She also uses present tense.

Now, on my list of pure wild loathings in fiction, present tense comes incredibly high on the list. It never brings any of the supposed benefits of immediacy to my experience but instead a sense of things not being as expected that jars me and never lets me find my flow. I normally refuse to read books that feature it.

A few pages into the sample here I decided for once, I didn't care. For the record - I still loathe it.

Those of you of the observant type will have noticed I am incredibly high on this book. I have already brought the second, and am debating ways to tastefully and respectfully plead with Brennan to make this series her priority. Since I've always given you the gist, I will pause to tell you about Cold-Forged Flame's flaws.

There's quite a few f-bombs. My review of Priest of Bones should make it clear that's not the problem in itself, but in context here it didn't feel right. Yes, the character is angry, but I got a sort of mythic old-time vibe (despite the pistols...) that doesn't quite right with it. It's not a huge deal but it occasionally broke my immersion.

Okay, we're done talking flaws.

Wait. There's another one. This book is too good. I'm slightly worried about recommending it because I know very few book are going to find it as perfectly weighted to their tastes as I do. I don't want to overhype it and disappoint people but at the same time, I've got to be honest.

The doing scenes - the climbing, the fighting, the exploring - are beautiful and gripping. Brennan seems to have a natural grip on how much detail to give and how much to rely on the sweep of character emotion as a tool to make us conjure the rest of them ourselves. The introspection is equally entertaining, although how could it fail to be when given such heady material? The climax is perfect - a screaming assertion of identity and failure to compromise.

Cold-Forged Flame is, more or less, perfect. I was really rather impressed at Turning Darkness Into Light but it didn't quite fully hit the mark for me. This book does. And while that's because it's the sort of book that would be written if a frankly unfairly talented author took writing prompts from deep inside my unconscious, I think a lot of other people will love it as well. And I hope there's a few others for whom it is just as perfect.