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Firethorn by Sarah Micklem
Review by Colleen Cahill
Scribner Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0743247949
Date: 08 June, 2004 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The main character was known as Luck in her youth, for her red hair was considered lucky. And certainly she had experienced a bit of good fortune: as a toddler she was a foundling who was brought to the household of a widowed Dame. Although Luck was supposedly a servant, her quick intelligence caught the noble woman?s eye and soon she was learning weaving and herb lore, acting more as a companion that drudge. All this changes when the Dame dies and her nephew takes over the manor. After he nearly rapes Luck, she flees to the Kingswood, where her herb lore keeps her alive, but just barely. During the winter she is close to starvation and is so hungry that she eats the berries of the firethorn tree, a tree sacred to the God Ardor. She should die from this, but instead is transformed in subtle ways. She realizes these changes are deep, causing her to leave her foundling name behind and take on the new one of Firethorn.

Even though Firethorn can survive in the Kingswoods, she feels her escape from death has given her a destiny, so she returns to the village near where she grew up. It is here she meets Sire Calin, a noble warrior who is traveling through to join the armies of the King gathering for war. A brief fling is not enough for either of them and Firethorn finds herself agreeing to be Calin?s sheath, a camp follower barely one step above a harlot. This is a tumultuous relationship, made no easier by Firethorn?s pride and quick tongue. But is it Calin who really causes an uproar when he wins a wager that could lead to a deadly feud between the clans.

This is not your average fantasy epic. Unlike many such books, there is not a map in the front, but the Divine Compass, a wheel of the dozen gods of this world showing their various avatars of male, female and emotional aspects. They are the center of the world and while the hands of the divine are rarely seen, people rely on portents and omens to guide many of their decisions. A rich and complex society, we see it through the eyes of a woman who is almost at the bottom of the social ladder, but with the power of a healer. This is a medieval-like world, not a copy of Middle Ages Europe, being different enough to be exotic and a universe that the author reveals with great skill. From the intricate religion to how the society works, Micklem gives us a rich experience that is complete without bogging down in the details or dragging the plot. A fast moving story, it has loads of action and surprises, from love scenes to tourneys to dark villains.

Firethorn is a gem of a novel and I am looking forward to the future volumes. Lyric, flowing, unpredictable and captivating are all terms that apply to this book: I whole heartedly recommend this first of what will hopefully be many good novels from Sarah Micklem.

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