the Little Red Reviewer

Firebrand, by Gillian Philip

Posted on: April 8, 2013

Firebrand, by Gillian Philip

published February of 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tor!)

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I wanted to write a formal review of Firebrand. I tried to. Really, I did. But nothing I typed was conveying anything I wanted to say. Thus,  this post is more emotional reaction than formal-ish review. Shit happens.

I’m having a tough time coming up with words to describe Firebrand. Words like wonderful and amazing and stunning just aren’t going to do it this time. What’s the word for the taste of a late summer heirloom tomato warmed by the sun? What’s the word for that feeling in your chest when listening to a beautiful piece of music, and the groundedness of the cello and tympani reverberates right through you and reminds you who you are? That word for wanting to trap perfect moments forever in amber, so you can watch the sunlight get caught in them?  Those. those are the words I need for Firebrand. The last book that made me feel this way was The Name of The Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.  I felt like I was waking up.

Philip effortlessly reached into the recesses of my mind, found the story I most wanted to hear, and then she put it on paper. I was addicted in the first few pages, and the book only got better. Everything you think a fantasy about fae creatures is, everything you expect, throw all of that out the window, right now. Firebrand is something new.

Instead of prattling on and on about the plot, I’m going to tell you the most important thing, and the thing that bound me instantly to Firebrand: Seth MacGregor idolizes his older half-brother Conal.  The first time we meet Seth, he’s readying himself to murder his brother.

If you really need more plot info, hit up Amazon.

There are some readers who won’t care for Seth.  If Fitz from Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy annoyed you, then Seth will as well, for many of the same reasons. Raised with minimal social interaction, Seth isn’t so good at playing well with others. He has no idea how to keep his mouth shut, diplomacy isn’t his strong suit, and worst of all, he wears his emotions on his sleeve, as passionate about the people he loves as he is about those he hates.  He’s a very frustrated young man, but damn it, he’s got reason to be. Did you like Assassin’s Apprentice? Did you like The  Name of the Wind? of course you did, and you’ll like Firebrand too.

I absolutely couldn’t put Firebrand down. For three days I wanted to do nothing but read it, and at the same time I knew the more time I spent with Seth and Conal, the sooner their story would be over and they would leave me. I didn’t want to let Seth go, I needed to know he was going to be okay. This is the kind of book that makes me feel just damn good while I’m reading it. Even during the sad bits.

Seth isn’t given to ornamentation or vanity, and neither is Philip’s story telling style. Her prose is simple and direct, no fifty cent words, no showing off or bragging. This  is a  story that shines with it’s own light, a light that mostly hides a shadow of inevitable melancholy. An older Seth is reminiscing about what happened. He remembers being an optimist in his youth. But his older self knows that every choice comes with a consequence.  We can’t possibly know what those consequences are, we just know that in that moment of passion, we know we’re doing the right thing. Only later do we realize what the consequences are, and that they were worth it.

If you can’t tell, Firebrand made one hell of an emotional impact on me. It hit me in a lot personal places, and it hit hard. It probably won’t hit you that hard. You should still read it.

With the direct storytelling style and fast paced narrative, some reviewers are categorizing Firebrand as YA, and others are categorizing it as dark fantasy. I suppose it’s both. Very young readers might not be interested in the political or romantic subtleties, but I’d certainly recommend this as appropriate for older teens (and all you grown ups too). Sure, it’s filled with violence and casual sex and adult language, but nothing a teen hasn’t already seen on television.  This isn’t Joe Abercrombie style super gore-fest violence, the death and violence are certainly there, but they’re not dwelled on.

A quick word on the US cover art – you should completely ignore it. The cover art isn’t ugly or anything, but it does do a disservice to the novel, making it look like some kind of Robin Hood historical fantasy type thing. Put a cloth cover on the book, get it on your e-reader, whatever you have to do to not connect the book’s insides with it’s outsides. Don’t judge this one by the cover, because that bland boring cover is hiding something amazing. the original UK artwork is below, it gives a better feel for what happens in the story.

Firebrand has turned me into a blundering fool when I’ve tried to talk about it. The first thing I wanted to do when I finished it was start it all over again. I fell into these pages and wanted to stay there forever.  It made me feel like I could conquer the world.  I could wait until the emotions subside and write an actual review, and maybe that will happen, as I would really like to read it again. . . .  I’m gonna shut up now, and go find out when the next book in the series is due.

the UK cover art. Not awesome, but better than the US cover art.

the UK cover art. Not awesome, but better than the US cover art.

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27 Responses to "Firebrand, by Gillian Philip"

I have to say, I like “informal” reviews a lot more than formals. I prefer to feel like I’m talking to an old friend about a book he/she loves when I read these. And man your passion for this book makes your writing all the more engaging to read. These are the kind of book reviews I like to read. Really awesome review. You’ve certainly convinced me to give it a go. Thanks.

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I often feel like I should write a “formal” review, but honestly, I feel a lot better writing these informal articles. I’m happy it worked for you too! :)

btw, I just I love your blog! you’re having the adventure of your life in Germany, and here I am in the boring midwest, in the work/pay bills grind. Reading your blog these last few days has really put a smile on my face. :D

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Awesome review! I’ve read this book and I think I have it and the second book tucked away somewhere (haven’t read Book 2 yet). I should dig them both out again… ;)

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you have book 2 and you haven’t read it? woman get reading! :D

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LOL! Hey, if I had shame for every book I haven’t read yet … I’d be really, really ashamed. But I will read these, I swear! ;)

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Yes!! I read this a couple of years ago and loved it! So happy it’s turned you into a ‘blundering fool’ – it’s only temporary I’m sure. BTW – I loved Seth!
Lynn :D

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i kinda don’t want the blundering fool feeling to be temporary, i wouldn’t mind if it stuck around a little while. and have you seen? Seth has his own twitter feed! it’s adorable!

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I know! is Seth pretty hot or what? Plus, I love Gillian Philips.
Lynn :D

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and I just saw you’ve reviewed the entire series on your blog. . . must. not. look. . . spoilers!!!

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Yes, definitely DO NOT LOOK!

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Dang, your reviews are always so compelling. If I didn’t have hundreds of things piled up in a sorta TBR thingie, I’d probably head to the library and get it.

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bah I say, Bah to the TBR thingie! you know you want to go to the library and get this. i have hundreds of books piling up too. such is the curse of being book lovers.

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Hmmmmm. I wasn’t so wild about the two books you compare this to, so I wonder what I’d think of this one. (It may be more a result of user error than authorial type stuff anyway.) I’ll have to add it to the fantasy list just in case, tho by the time I finish Memory Sorrow and Thorn, I may take a long hiatus from swords and wizards.

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do you enjoy low fantasy settings? first person perspective? tragically flawed anti-heroes? naive know-it-all teenagers who have no idea they are saying silly things in front of members of the opposite sex?

if you answered with less than 4 yes’s this should probably be a library book for you.

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Hmm. 1) Generally 2) Yes 3) Sometimes 4) Too close to autobiography for comfort.

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Read this one recently myself, and I was also thouroughly impressed with it. Engrossing story, characters who are flawed and real and wonderful to read about, really interesting historical commentary… I too am waiting eagerly for the next installment in the series!

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I got the impression at the end of this one that the historical setting in the other books in the series might be different. I’m super interested to see how Seth handles completely different areas and social structures and whatnot. there’s unlimited amounts of fun that could be had with this!

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So was it the characters that compelled you? Cause I have to say characters always override plot for me :)

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oh definitely characters! it’s Seth’s first person POV, so we’re getting his thoughts on everything, and I just adore him so much. he’s stubborn and flawed and sees the bright side of everything and thinks he’s invincible and screws up royally and is clueless with girls, and it’s funny and touching and perfect. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is fascinating too, but damn where these some compelling characters.

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Glad to hear you loved it as much as I did!

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ok, I have a sample of it loaded on my kindle…

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[...] of you may remember a few weeks ago when a book called Firebrand blew my mind, gave me a band-aid, then blew my mind again.  I’ve pretty much been [...]

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[...] twitter. If not, learn what all the fuss is about by reading my interview with Gillian Philip, or my reaction to the [...]

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[…] Book Blog | Little Red Reviewer |Anna’s Book […]

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[…] this year the first book in the Rebel Angel series, Firebrand, really hit me hard. No, “hit me hard” isn’t quite right, “destroyed me where I stood” is […]

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[…] the first book in her Rebel Angels series. And just, WOW.  Go read my review.  no, seriously, go read it. And then go read the even better review of the second book in the series, Bloodstone, which just […]

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[…] Firebrand by Gillian Philip (2013) – Pure fun.  Snarky characters, vicious fae creatures, an ultra sexy main character, a plot that kept my turning pages and staying up way too late at night. Within just a few chapters of reading this first book in the Rebel Angels series, I found myself obsessed with the entire series. […]

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