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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Flame Priest by Karen Azinger (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Flame PriestHERE
Read an extract HERE (Includes spoilers for the first book)
Read FBC’s review of The Steel Queen
Read FBC interview with Karen Azinger

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Before venturing into the field of writing, Karen Azinger spent over twenty years as an international business strategist, eventually becoming a vice-president for one of the world's largest natural resource companies. She's worked on developing the first gem-quality diamond mine in Canada's arctic, on coal seam gas power projects in Australia, and on petroleum projects around the world. Having lived in Australia for eight years she considers it to be her second home. She's also lived in Canada and spent a lot of time in the Canadian arctic. Eight years ago on a hike in the Colombia River Gorge she realized she had enough original ideas to finally write an epic fantasy, resulting in The Silk & Steel Saga.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Heralded by a red comet, the Mordant is Reborn. A thousand years of evil hidden beneath a young man’s face, the Mordant returns in the guise of his oldest enemy. Keen to regain his full powers, he weaves his way north, sowing a trail of death and deceit. Kath and her companions leave the monastery, chasing an elusive shadow across the kingdoms of Erdhe, but the dark divide has already begun. Allies are set against allies, tearing the kingdoms asunder.

A rebellion rises in Lanverness, threatening the queen’s life as well as her crown. Trapped within her own castle, the Spider Queen must out-wit the traitors led by her own blood, or surrender her kingdom to Darkness. Across the border, the Lord Raven builds a religion into a fanatical bonfire. A fiery frenzy grips Coronth, fanning the powers of the Flame Priest into a raging threat. The eternal battle of Light and Dark is joined, but few mortals understand the rules.

CLASSIFICATION: The Silk & Steel saga is an epic fantasy series in the vein of the twisted & action-packed stories by Stephen Deas and Jennifer Fallon.

FORMAT/INFO: The Flame Priest is 475 pages long divided over sixty-seven titled chapters and a prologue. Also includes a map and appendices for the kingdoms of Castlegard, Coronth, Lanverness, Navarre, the order of Kiralynn monks and The Deep Green. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via Katherine (The Imp), Liandra the Spider Queen, Blaine the Knight, Princess Jordan, Prince Justin, Steffan, the Mordant ,Samson the baker’s son and Prince Danly while the minor POVs include the knight marshall Osbourne, Micah, the Priestess, and Sir Tyrone. The Flame Priest is the second volume of The Silk & Steel Saga, which is projected to be five books long. The third book is currently titled The Skeleton King.

November 8, 2011 marked the Trade Paperback publication of The Flame Preist via Kiralynn Epics—an independent publisher created by the author. The lovely cover art is provided by Greg Bridges.

ANALYSIS: Sequels are hard to write and often doubly difficult to appease the readers. Writers always walk a tight rope when releasing their second books. I believe Karen Azinger must have also faced a similar conundrum and I wanted to see how she would fare and so when I got the opportunity to get my hands on the second book. I eagerly went ahead as I had enjoyed The Steel Queen and the way the book ended, made me want to read the second at the earliest.

The story begins with our heroes who have all gone through their individual trials by the end of the first book. Kath the imp princess is learning more about magic as she prepares to fight the forces of the dark lord. To add to her worries is the whereabouts of Jordan the princess of Navarre & sword sister to Kath. On the other hand her brother Prince Justin the musician is in Coronth trying to gauge how to appease the flames fanned by the flame priests. The goings are tough as he has no clue to the madness which prevails in the kingdom. His only tools are his music and songs but they hold a crucial power & shall it be enough to stem the tide of the flames? Queen Liandra is facing a red hand orchestrated attack on the reins of her monarchy and it does seem to be slipping from her hands. Her second son Danly is anxiously scheming to replace her as the true king. Steffan the Raven Lord is furthering his own plans by helping the flame priests however the Dark Lord has special plans for him. Lastly is the newest player in this game the reincarnated Mordant who is equally terrifying and plays his cards close to his chest. All these characters create a thick web of action, intrigue & emotions, by which the reader will be completely enamored by.

The author has to be lauded for her plotting skills which were nicely evident in the fist book but come to the fore exuberantly in this one. Throughout the story, twists are inserted for the reader to happen upon, some of which are predictable however the majority should definitely take the reader by surprise. The main plot is about transformation and this aspect is seen through all the character arcs. Be it the heroic ones or the villainous ones, they all are striving for reaching their goals and the tribulations they will face will either strengthen or smash them. Its up to the reader to discover who survives and who doesn't.

The pacing is another factor which helps as the book begins on a fast pace and then maintains its zest through out whilst going on to an terrific climax. The entire story almost never slows beginning from the first chapter all the way to the end. There’s always something happening in one chapter or the other. I noticed that the author carefully orchestrated this story so that the ebb and flow of action & emotions is constantly alternated and so every character faces danger at some time or the other. I found this aspect to be very similar to the thriller books by Jeffrey Deaver and this was quite an excellent point.

The character list is also expanded from the last book and while most of the previous POV characters make their return, it’s the presence of the new POVs which is truly the dark feature of this book. Namely the Mordant who is reborn and features across the breadth of the story, he was frequently mentioned in the first book however remained more like a shadowy presence but in this book manages to gain corporeal presence and makes his presence felt in all fields. His chapters as well as those of Stefan are the major negative POV chapters and are the most exciting ones to read. As the reader can read their thoughts and plans which affect several characters through out the story in major & minor ways. This was something which is usually not present in most fantasy books as we often see the actions of the negative characters but rarely see the thought process behind it.

I must also point out that one of the short stories in The Assassin’s Tear, deals with a major plot point in this book and so by reading the short story, the plot acquires depth. The book while having these positive facets still faces some old issues, namely that the predictability factor is never completely toned down and so most older fantasy readers will still be able to get a general idea about how and where the story might be going. The tropes which are utilized are most of the common fantasy ones and the author doesn't really bring anything new to the palate in those terms.

CONCLUSION: A lengthier, twisted & exciting sequel, The Flame Priest lives up to its blurb promise. Focusing on a large cast of characters, Karen Azinger masterfully manages the storyline and holds the reader’s interest with an engaging plot. The Flame Priest is a vastly improved book compared to its predecessor and as a sequel manages to overcome reader expectations convincingly. Give this series a try if you love classic epic fantasy tales with heroes, magic, battles & mayhem.



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