Rebel Angels, Book 1
Author: Gillian Philip
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Unsolicited Copy for Review
Description from Goodreads:
At the end of the sixteenth century, religious upheaval brings fear, superstition, and doubt to the lives of mortals. Yet unbeknownst to them, another world lies just beyond the Veil: the realm of the Sithe, a fierce and beautiful people for whom a full-mortal life is but the blink of an eye. The Veil protects and hides their world…but it is fraying at the edges, and not all think it should be repaired.
Discarded by his mother and ignored by his father, sixteen-year-old Seth MacGregor has grown up half wild in his father’s fortress, with only his idolized older brother, Conal, for family. When Conal quarrels with the Sithe queen and is forced into exile in the full-mortal world, Seth volunteers to go with him.
But life beyond the Veil is even more dangerous than they expected, and Seth and Conal soon find themselves embroiled in a witch-hunt—in which they are the quarry. Trapped between the queen’s machinations at home and the superstitious violence of the otherworld, Seth must act before both of them are fed to the witch-hunters’ fires…
Brimming with intrigue and rebellion, Firebrand is the first book in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip, the Carnegie Medal–nominated author of Crossing the Line and multi-award-nominated Bad Faith.
First Sentence: "The courtyard stinks of animals and much and human waste."
Since the hero is 16, Firebrand has been getting some attention as possibly being YA, though its imprint is not. Though Seth is 16 through most of it, the story is told like he's an old man looking back on his life. This removes some of the immediacy and means that he comes off more like a grownup than a teen. He occasionally reflects on things he would have done differently had he known then what he knows now, making sure the reader remembers this. I really wouldn't call Firebrand YA.
The world itself is very cool. There's a sort of parallel universe vibe. Basically, Seth and his people live in one world and beyond the Veil lies another, the land of the full-mortals, our distant, unwashed ancestors. They can pass between the Veil, but they are persecuted for witchcraft there, not being normal by full-mortal standards. I love stories about a world of magic hidden within the ordinary one, and I love how it ties into history here.
Seth and his half-brother, Conal, have an interesting relationship. Seth, not by nature especially trusting, assumes that his brother will want his death, but Conal is actually the sweetest guy, and essentially raises Seth. Their love for one another, even when they very much do not agree on important matters is touching, and not the sort of relationship I've seen much of in fiction. None of the other connections rang as true or mattered as much as this one. Seth does fall in love, but he would still choose his brother over his woman any day.
One thing I do need to mention about the romantic relationships is that I like that Philip didn't use a cop-out. The Sithe can essentially live forever, so long as they don't get killed (or at least so long that it feels like forever compared to our lifespans). The full-mortals have lifespans of 16th century humans, so not long. One of the Sithe falls in love with a human, and I love that Philip didn't come up with some loophole that would let their love last forever.
If action-based fantasy is your thing, there's a good bit of sword play and fighting. As I said, there's a lot that happens, but I just couldn't get especially caught up in the story, a combination of the lack of driving plot and the storytelling method, which means you know Seth will survive ultimately. I was, however, entertained and I didn't have to struggle through the 364 pages. It's good, but not necessarily the ideal book for me.
Firebrand is well-written and has a fascinating concept, but is more ideal for a different type of fantasy fan. I probably will not be reading the next book, just because there are so many other books out there I would probably like more, and I'm okay with where Firebrand ended.
Favorite Quote: "'A woman can admire a man without being in love with him,' she told me acidly. 'A woman can be grateful to a man, and think he's a good and brave and decent human being, without being in love with him.'"
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