There are different approaches to epic fantasy. This week, I’m going to talk about two books that take different ones (albeit ones that come from very similar roots): Claire Legrand’s Furyborn and Claudie Arseneault’s City of Strife.
Furyborn is an ambitious novel, the opening volume of a trilogy. It follows two viewpoint characters separated by a full millennium whose lives are—it seems—connected by a prophecy.
Rielle Dardenne possesses all seven kinds of elemental magic. Her lack of ability to control her power caused her mother’s death while Rielle was still a child. Her distant father has insisted she learn to suppress her power. But when her best friend, the crown prince Audric, is threatened by assassins, she reveals her power and pulls attention squarely down on her unprepared head.
According to the powers-that-be in her country, the only people who should have the power to control all seven kinds of elemental magic are two prophesied queens. One queen will be the Sun Queen, a queen of light who brings protection and salvation. The other will be the Queen of Blood, a bringer of death and destruction.
In order to prove that she’s the Sun Queen, Rielle has to undergo a series of trials to test her control and her magic. She has enemies who want her to fail. If she fails, if the test itself doesn’t kill her, she’ll be executed as the Queen of Blood and a harbinger of destruction.
Eliana Ferracora lives a thousand years after Rielle, in a city dominated by the repressive Undying Empire. In her society, there’s no elemental magic, and Rielle is remembered as a woman who destroyed everything, killing her husband Audric Lightbringer in the process—but stories of her time are only legends, and Eliana has more important things to worry about. She’s a bounty hunter for the empire, hunting down and killing rebels and other criminals who challenge the empire’s laws.
When her mother disappears, though, she has little choice but to work with a mysterious rebel captain who seems to have very personal interest in her. But that captain—Simon is his name—refuses to help her unless she helps him first.
At times, Furyborn feels like it’s trying too hard to hit all the epic notes, and the narrative signalling towards the heterosexual romance arcs—well, it’s both bland and bolted on. But it’s an entertaining read, and I’m interested to see how Legrand is going to pull off the rest of the story.
Claudie Arseneault’s City of Strife is another fantasy novel that fits somewhere between epic and sword-and-sorcery. In terms of setting, I’m reminded of nothing so much as Forgotten Realms’ Waterdeep: the city in which the action takes place is a city full of elves and half-elves, humans and halflings, wizards and larger-than-life personalities. The cast’s a large ensemble: a likeable young assassin; a very young chef who runs the city’s only homeless shelter; a magically-altered man returning to the city of his birth after a century away; oddball scions of a noble house, which include its head; a brutally abused apprentice wizard—
These characters intersect in interesting ways, for they’re each in their own ways representative of the city’s internal tension and conflict—now exacerbated by the presence of a couple of wizards, one of which is exceedingly cruel, from an expansionist empire. Arseneault’s characters are well-sketched and engaging, and the story hums along at a fair clip. And all the characters are some variety of queer.
I enjoyed it enough to have already bought the second volume, City of Betrayal.
What are you guys reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and is nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.