- Frost Arch
- By: Kate Bloomfield
- Book 1 of the Fire Mage Trilogy
- Rating: 3 (out of 5)
This is the perfect example of the indie author’s Achilles heel: a book that’s been run through spellcheck but hasn’t actually been edited. Homphone abuse runs rampant; my favorite, “draws” for “drawers” (as in “chest of draws”) consistently pops up every time the furniture is mentioned. It’s so bad it’s comical.
You may be wondering why I didn’t stop reading; in fact, I planned to after the first few pages but never actually got around to it. Mostly, I suspect, because I’m a sucker for a plucky heroine, and even more of a sucker for animal sidekicks.
The story is a post-apocalyptic-Earth fantasy, and the characters are at least vaguely familiar with basic bits of modern Earth in that vastly out-of-context way that all such stories seem to embrace. Apparently, humans did bad things, and now they are evil scum of the earth and pitiful slaves considered unintelligent: think Planet of the Apes. Those people who have inherited the Earth are a race of Mages (always capitalized) who all have a special power that defines them as Mages and not human.
Our plucky heroine is a Fire Mage by the name of Avalon. She runs away from home at the beginning of the book because she’s not very in control of her power, and also because her sister may be ::gasp:: human and isn’t able to defend against Avalon’s accidental flare-ups. She hitches a ride to the town of Frost Arch, where it always snows despite what the surrounding lands might think the weather should be doing. In the process, she manages to pick up the aforementioned animal sidekick, a fox-hawk hybrid that changes color depending on mood and/or surroundings. She also manages to immediately snare a job at one of Frost Arch’s four manors as a specialty maid, lighting fires and heating bathwater for the nobles. They have matches, but apparently they’re not good enough.
The story wanders through troubles at the manor, trying to keep the ever-growing fox-hawk out of sight, a subplot involving the noble’s son and a lost-love-lookalike, our heroine losing her powers and getting on the bad side of her boss, escapes and rescue attempts, and a lot of secrets causing the drama that secrets do.
It was refreshing to note that no overt romance happened between Avalon and Jack, the young healer who becomes her best friend. By the end of the book it’s fairly solidly implied, but the only love interest of note is the noble’s son, and that ends fairly quickly, if dramatically. Avalon is the spitting image of his lost love, but she doesn’t find that out until he gets drunk and tries to rape her. (Herein lies the problem of secrets being secret, as it were)
Now, I find the rape trope overdone at best, a symptom of larger cultural issues, and far too often a crutch for authors wanting some drama. I have to say that this scene was better than many, contextually relevant (even if the context is also an overdone trope) and significant in that there are consequences that don’t involve the heroine turning into a punching bag or a revenge machine. She does, however, seem to lose her power, which, for a girl in this society, is probably more traumatic than the (aborted) attack itself. I don’t find it a particularly necessary way of getting to that plot point, but it’s perhaps more acceptable(?) than usual.
That said, there was a lot of inconsistency in the setting and a fair amount of anachronism in the speech patterns. The author rather haphazardly drops modern vernacular and slang into the dialogue, and random details that aren’t well-defined within the context of the story. Apparently, they’re still using modern-day country names and ethnicities, except that there wasn’t any mention of that until three-quarters of the way through the book. Ditto for items mentioned once and never explained (I recognize that a Time-Keeper is, well, some sort of timekeeping device, but it’s only mentioned once at the very end of the book for no apparent reason). It lacks consistency.
A lot of plot threads are left dangling, which is expected from a first book in a series. A number of plot elements that did get page time seemed a bit underwhelming compared to the implications of the loose threads. Other plot points are presented as significant but without any followthrough; for instance, Avalon spends the beginning of the book complaining about not being able to control her power, but we see her use it, completely in control, as soon as she gets her job. So much for the angst and potential for character growth.
I think, if it had been a stand-alone book, with more focus on the plot-thread that leads to the climax, it could very well have been a good book. While that plot is relevant throughout the story, it’s backgrounded until the very end, which lessens its effect. As it is, it feels like the author was reaching for something greater, but her story isn’t up to the challenge.
Overall, it’s a typical plucky-girl YA story, entertaining if not particularly original. The characters are done well, and the narrative voice is engaging. If it weren’t for the plucky heroine-and-animal-sidekick focus, I’d probably have given it a 2-star review, if I finished it at all. That said, I am not ashamed of my reading kinks, and sometimes you just need a book that pushes those buttons.