A good friend of mine (now) from Ireland is up-and-coming author Mara Amberly. Mara has published a number of books of poetry and other short work, but her latest book is a fantasy novel called Fire and Gold, Book 1 of the Sisters of the North. We were talking writing and she offered to send me a book to get my impressions. I readily agreed not mentioning that my stash of books has gone down to almost nothing. I had but one book to read before I was out. So two birds, one stone. Plus as you know this year, I have been trying my hand at short works of fiction, hoping to complete a bigger one myself.
So on to reading I went.
I will be honest and say that it flew by so quickly. I could not put it down until the end. The story revolves around two sisters: one fiery and spontaneous, the other quiet, pensive and reserve. This may be cliche, but it works as a basic dynamic. They are part of a religious order and have received magical training. The magic is elemental-based with each caster getting one affinity for one type. Simple.
Our heroines find themselves away from their temple when it is attacked by an evil order that kills (nearly) everyone else. From that point, they are on the run trying to reach safety of another temple of the order. There that's the overall plot in two sentences. Again simple.
This simplicity of story is not what made me like this book, but the characters themselves, with their flaws and strengths, are where this book really shines. The story has enough surprises and twists to keep you interested.
- Quite simply, the base story is good. It's simplicity makes it that much more believable.
- The main story is given in the third person narrative where the story unfolds from the perspective of the characters. As the sisters flee the city of Kalle, their flight is easy to imagine and with a good portrayal of a group of city-women heading out into the wilds. We are presented with the elements of the world we need as readers only when they become relevant through natural and realistic dialogue. Therefore, I never felt as the story progress that I was lost as to where they were or what were the challenges they expected to find along the way.
- The women were not experts of wilderness survival, but neither are we given Paris Hilton going into the wild, nor do they become master bandits because they need something. They don't go from city slickers to master huntresses. Procuring food and water is a vital challenge with decent obstacles. They are capable, but clearly out of their comfort zone.
- There is a feeling of refrained sexuality the sisters experience throughout the story (as they meet male characters). I will tell you that if there is no long romantic or sex scenes in the book (I know, I hear many of you pervs out there sigh) but this tension actually adds to the story. Providing a few interesting scenes as one of the sisters' reaction to the male lead creates moment of definite interests as she tries to look but not look, playing strong but inwardly shy. This interplay was really one of the gems and one of the elements I liked best of the book.
And now the weaker points of the story.
- As good as the main characters and their interactions were, the story has a couple of side-stories. These were weak and did not contribute to the story. They felt like distractions. Now that being said, I can see how these side-plots can develop into major story lines later. The potential is there for them to grow and mix the main story. But here, they felt weak. This is a personal peeve and a reason I dislike series, this starting of random thread. Since a number of the sub-plots should be in a different book. I would hate to pick up book 2 then go "who the heck are these people? Why are they here? Why do they do this?" Some people will love this, I dislike it myself. A lot.
- Related to the previous point, I could not care about any of the characters in these side-plots, that they lived or died, I did not care. They only one was poor Luke, whose side-plot explains part of the action and was a pretty interesting story. The thread started and ended within the book.
So if I have to give this a solid 4/5. However, this is mostly related to my dislike of unresolved threads. For those who enjoy reading this type of saga, you will find your fix here.
However, in spite of the scoring, when I get to the end and think about it, I feel compelled to ask myself. Would you read a sequel? And the answer is a clear and definite YES.
You can get your copy of the book on Amazon.Com. While you're at it, tell Mara you read this review!