Reviewed: December 20, 2011
Genre: Historical Fantasy Romance
Series: Bringer and the Bane, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 311 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle, Nook
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was received from the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
The hellish embers of a war waged centuries ago are once again being stirred into conflagration. The king of the Bane, a demon who kills humans and subsumes their souls, demands his son Icarus bring him a young woman named Ravyn. Only by taking her soul into him will he have the power to open the Abyss of Souls and command the Army of Souls within it. Only with Ravyn's power will he finally be unstoppable...unconquerable.
He must have Ravyn's soul to wipe the world of the last, persistently lingering traces of the Bringers, a race of people with the ability to destroy the Bane.
Sequestered from the world since birth and raised in an abbey, Ravyn has led a cold, relatively lonely life. Beaten and feared for the force she has inside her, she struggles to control the confusing flares of fire, a power she's been told - convinced - is proof of her inherent wickedness. And until she is faced with true evil, true wickedness, and feels the sting of it on her skin, feels the fire in her rise up to battle it, she is certain in her beliefs.
Being snatched by Icarus, the Bane king's son, however, as she flees a force of insidious corruption within the abbey and slips beyond the relative safety of sanctified ground, makes it clear that things are not as she's always believed. Ravyn smacks face-first into a destiny she could hardly conceive. With the help of the last full-blooded Bringer in the world, Rhys Blackwell, a man who rescues her from Icarus and opens her eyes to her true nature, Ravyn will stand on the precipice of war and serve as the fulcrum for a paradigm shift of world-altering proportions.
As the attraction between man and woman sparks like tinder and rages like wildfire, a proud but forgotten group of warriors will discover long-buried truths that serve to renew their purpose in the coming battle. It must. For if it cannot, if the Bringers falter in their destiny and duty, life - all life - will end and the Bane will rule forevermore.
If you're fond of series debuts with a lot going on and a hell of an introduction to a complex world, this exciting jump start to the Bringer and the Bane series shouldn't be missed. Set in a fantasy world that looks vaguely like medieval England in social structure, but ripe with the demon Bane and their magically gifted counterparts, Bringers (the demon/angel correlation is both obvious and acknowledged in a nicely concise way in the story), this book offers a lot to readers.
On the surface, it's a fully entertaining fantasy romance/paranormal romance book with two characters, Ravyn and Rhys, who are appealingly strong as the protagonists, and a cast of secondary and ancillary characters who are just flat-out fantastic. For that alone I would have enjoyed the book. It's what lies beneath the surface, though, and what has been woven into the book beside the main romance plot line, that offers the truest flashes of story excellence and the potential for series greatness.
This is a world with more than one face of evil, where those carrying the diluted bloodlines of supernatural protectors have become leaders grown fat off their own superiority, where human factions have questionable agendas and keep dangerous strengths carefully hidden. It's a world that has lost touch with its history, where ancestral knowledge and magic has slipped through the cracks formed by the relentlessness of time; a world so out of touch with reality that most live in a bubble of self-satisfied contentment that is nothing but a chimera, a gaping maw of sharp teeth hidden behind slack complacency. It's a world that needs to wake up, with a small band of protectors who are ready to do the waking and are just now starting to learn how.
The story potential in all that is as limitless and as imaginative as Brux's ability to dream it, conceive it, shape it, and create it.
I also give full credit to Brux for main characters Ravyn and Rhys. Both of them had backgrounds that were nicely fleshed out and their evolution through the book, particularly Ravyn's, was smooth on paper, but reflected a genuine sense of human nature in the back-and-forth confusion of action and reaction one would expect from someone in their situation. In short, they were perfectly plausible.
That's not to say I didn't want to clobber Rhys more than once for his persistent chauvinism and over-inflated hero complex, because I so did, but he is definitely a product of his past and his nature. One of my favorite moments in the book, too, is Ravyn's initial reaction to her first encounter with a horde of Bane following the massive shift in her understanding of herself and the world around her. This innocent, quietly raised young woman reacts swiftly and negatively. This is not the life she wants, being a warrior is not a job she thinks she can do, and she intends to let Rhys go on without her. I loved that.
Hey, don't get me wrong, my preference in heroines may be the sort that kicks ass and doesn't bother taking names, has control of her destiny and her power, and knows herself inside and out, but if you're going to give me one that's led a cloistered, secluded, more than vaguely abusive life from birth, then yeah - Ravyn's reaction fit her frame of mind and her situation at that moment perfectly. Of course, she does change her mind after the initial terror of the battle wears off (wouldn't be much of a book otherwise), and she does have her moments later in the book that are in the general vicinity of ass kicking, but that initial reaction was spot-on proof of some of the touches of awesomeness that this book offers.
I have to admit, I didn't think the romance between Ravyn and Rhys was terribly complex or unique. She's an innocent, he's an over-thinker with a misguided idea of protect-and-serve, and the conflict in the relationship revolves around those two facts. I think the romance was probably the most predictable and pedestrian element of the entire book. Satisfying for a romance lover like myself, with plenty of chemistry and some hot sex, but fairly average for the genre.
Icarus, on the other hand, was nothing close to average in any way, shape, or form. Son of Vile, the Bane king, Icarus was a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Easy to hate for his crimes, which are, admittedly, expansive and vile (no pun intended), there's still something about him that screams for redemption. He's not like other Bane, and that major plot point is what held me most captivated by this book.
I am a total sucker for redemption threads and anti-heroes. I love them. Give me a flawed, broken character or a bad-guy-does-good and I yearn for their triumph over the darkness that coils through their souls. Icarus embodies all of that and more. Is he a bad guy? Oh, yeah. And the good guys loathe him and want him dead. Are his motives murky and self-serving? Absolutely. All evidence points that way, at least. But there's just something about him that drew my attention and kept it, and every glorious glimmer of the slightest difference between him and other Bane was savored and studied. I loved him. I want more of him. More of the series, certainly, but definitely more of Icarus.
I do feel the need to warn readers about one thing. Shield of Fire may annoy or frustrate those who prefer their books to be wrapped up in a tidy bow at the end. There's no cliff hanger - I hate those - but the only plot thread that truly reaches a conclusion is the romance thread, and even that conclusion left me with a lingering sense that the story between Ravyn and Rhys wasn't quite done being told. I hope that's the case, actually, as Ravyn seems to be a fairly large factor in the war brewing between the Bane and the Bringers and I still have a lot of questions about her past and her identity. But that's exactly my point.
The sheer number of plot threads left dangling at the end of this book make party streamers seem understated. They're everywhere. So, too, are the unanswered questions. Nothing much is really resolved, concluded, discovered, or revealed in this book beyond the most basic elements. No, I'm not complaining. I actually enjoy series that lay down questions and conflicts at the beginning and answer/resolve them throughout the series arc. It doesn't bother me at all that so few of my questions are answered at the end of this book. I know it bugs some readers, though, and I wanted to mention it.
My personal caveat, and I do have one, lies elsewhere. Now that the world has been established, mythos created, characters introduced, and history fleshed out, some of those danglies and unanswereds need to start getting resolved/answered very soon. The appeal of future books in the series will depend on that for me.
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