×
Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index
 
 
 

EMBERS

A novel by Paul J. Bennett
(2020, Paul J. Bennett)

Frozen Flame, book 2
 
 

Two rogue mages find evidence of a conspiracy to wipe out an orc village, and set out to help in its defence against the church and neighboring nations.

 
 
 
   

-- 1st reading (ebook)
March 9th to 23rd, 2024

 
   

Simple, but enjoyable, the story builds on what came before, enlarging the conspiracy without giving up much more information. Unfortunately, the dialog is very hard to digest, and that had a huge impact on my enjoyment. Most of the dialog, especially in the first half of the book, was cringe-worthy, being na´ve and stilted. I tried to skim over it, when possible, to get to the meatier narrative. The narrative itself was interesting at times, giving lots of background and nice descriptions, showing Athgar and Natalia’s inner feelings, among other points of view. They are still na´ve (even beyond their dialog), trusting people too much –and most of the time, their trust pays off. The dwarf must have been fun to write, just different enough from humans, unlike the orcs, who didn’t seem that different. The best part was the final battle, describing the weapons and tactics from both sides. I was a bit let down by the ending, though, because the setup was so high and the magic didn’t amount to much. The story is a nice way to expand the world, but I wonder how long the author will continue to hint at conspiracies. 

Spoiler review:

This book didn’t leave much of an impression on me, for the world or the characters. The story continues not long after Ashes ended, but their mission seems to have changed. Athgar is no longer looking for his sister, and I didn’t catch why. He and Natalia are laying low in a small village, but apparently are getting restless. They have a lot of sex (off-screen, but they refer to it often), and meet a dwarf in need of a loan to pay for his room at the inn, until his cousins arrive from their mining operation in the hills.

Being the na´ve people that Athgar and Natalia still are, unchanged from the first book, they loan Belgast the money, but in this case it pays off. The early chapters are a little boring, showing them around town, something Athgar isn’t used to. In another town, they’ll take in a play, which only pays off later because they need the costumes. Unfortunately, these early chapters showcase a lot of dialog, all of which is cringe-worthy, and make me flip faster through the pages. Natalia explaining to a na´ve Athgar what a play is, and why it’s important culturally was hard to read.

The story itself isn’t bad. Athgar and Natalia accompany Belgast along the route his cousins were supposed to take, finding them dead, with dead orcs nearby. Athgar, of course, knows the orcs of the Red Hand, and also their ways. The orc bodies are suspicious, and Athgar tracks horses to a nearby house, where a woman and her children are being threatened, while other gangsters are already leaving. They save the woman and her family by killing the gangsters who remain, while taking the horses left by the men they just killed. A knowledgeable stablewoman states that the horses belong to the church, so they travel to a bigger city, where the church has a larger presence.

The bigger city isn’t actually the Big City, which is where they were in the last book. This one has several branches of the church, including one that is home to Cordelia, who identifies the horses as belonging to the cunars, which is the branch they had a run in with in Ashes. They go to visit Father General Gilbert, and recognize him as one of the gangsters who left the house before they intervened.

Belgast, of course, thrives in the big city, and contacts his cousin, and later gets Athgar drunk. For having asked questions, their hotel is burned down, but Belgast’s cousin has already rescued Natalia. It shows that the conspiracy they uncovered in the last book runs deeper than anybody thought, and Sister Cordelia begins an investigation. In the meantime, Natalia and Athgar sneak into a party given by the Duke. Once again, their suspicious actions don’t garner much attention, as they pretend to be drunk and search for a place for a romantic rendezvous, while actually listening at the door while standing in a hallway. They are remarkably not discovered, and escape by pretending to have sex under the grand hedge. It was a fun escapade, which was well written, except for the continually annoying dialog –but at least it was consistent.

At the party Athgar (in a disguise rented from the playhouse) meets Verineth Sartallian, a fire mage, who recognizes him as a Therengian. They discover he and the Duke are in league with Father General Gilbert to blame the orcs for attacks, in an effort to wipe them out to gather a meteorite near the orc village. Godstone, as it is known, can channel magic for weapons, and is very valuable. Verineth is in touch with the Family, which Natalia has been trying to avoid and escape since the last book, and notifies the Family of her presence with Athgar.

Both Natalia and Athgar get feverishly sick, Natalia first, so she is smuggled out of the city as Athgar tries to go for help. They come across Gilbert’s army. Almost detained, they let them go because they don’t want to catch what Natalia has. By the time she recovers, Athgar is sick, and she tries to get them to the orc village of Ord-Kurgad, the same village that took Athgar in when he lost his home in the last book. Their shaman heals Athgar, and they prepare for the upcoming attack.

I didn’t realize how close Athgar was to his old home, if he could get from the medieval city to the orc village in such a short time. Considering he left there to find his enslaved sister in the bigger city, there is very little mention of her here. Was there a decision I’ve forgotten about to stop the search? Even by the end of the book, when the orc ancestors decree (randomly) that they must go north to find the other Therengians, there is no regret at having to go opposite the direction he thought his sister was taken.

I thought the preparations for the siege were the most fun part of the book, with Athgar and Natalia showing the orcs how to strengthen their village, and easy teasing between them and the orcs Laruhk, Durgash and Kargen. When the battle started, they did a good job scaring away the human army, because of their tactics and their reputation.

Even the battle itself was nice to read, again interspersed with dialog that I had by now learned to scan over to understand the meaning without having to read it fully. Unfortunately, Athgar revealed himself too early, and the men reported back to the camp that there was a fire mage on the walls. This, of course, brings in the Sartellian, who easily overwhelmes their defences, and even Athgar himself.

I thought the shaman’s communion with the orc ancestors would amount to more, but it left me seriously disappointed. The ancestor who knows a spell to trigger Natalia’s memory tries to take over the shaman’s body, but eventually helps Natalia recall the spell she was looking for from a class she took many years ago. While the ancestor tries to escape with the new body (she’s eventually stripped of it, and the shaman returns to her body), Natalia summons the ice golem with her new spell, to attack the church knights.

It manages to kill a few, but not more than I think the orcs could have done with their heavy war bows. Then it’s killed, with swords and the Sartellian’s fire. It doesn’t last long, and doesn’t do nearly enough damage to ensure victory. It looks to me like a wasted chance.

On the other hand, Athgar trades fire with Verineth, and starts to lose, but nearly turns himself into a fireball. Natalia saves him from that kind of death, though, something nobody thought was possible. And I guess orcs really are made of tough stuff, because no matter how hot Verineth made his fire, Kargen, who thought his bondmate had been killed, keeps coming, eventually burning Varineth to death, and he survives. It seemed strange that the mage couldn’t control the fire around him, when it was stated that Athgar could remove fire from the orc huts.

The only reason the orcs survive, though, is due to the arrival of Sister Cordelia and her sister knights, guided to the spot by Belgast. The army surrenders, but the orcs are forced to leave their village.

The battle was exciting and fun, and I enjoyed the various techniques used to attack and defend. Unfortunately, the ending and their victory wasn’t to my taste.

Between these two books, Ashes and Embers, the story is growing more interesting, but it’s a light adventure, trying to showcase serious factions while keeping the relationship romantic. I wonder what it might be like without the cringe-worthy dialog, which persists throughout the book.

 
   

Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.