(2005) Sarah Micklem, £12.99, hrdbk, 383 pp, ISBN 0-007-19305-X / £6.99, pbk, ISBN 0-007-19306-8
This is the debut novel from Sarah Micklem and tracks the fortunes of a young woman, the 'Firethorn' of the title, who first flees a life of drudgery and survives for a year in a forest living by her wits and knowledge of herbs alone. During her time in the forest she faces near death, with her life being saved by her faith and as a result she gains uncanny abilities which may either be a prove to be a help or a hindrance.
The book is written from the first person perspective with the central character being strong willed, outspoken and naive in the ways of the world. The book follows her story as she leaves behind all that she knows and ventures to far off parts as the camp follower - or companion - to a titled warrior. The companionship between herself and the man she accompanies, Sire Galan, is one in which love has no place - however Firethorn comes to think differently despite the circumstances. It also tracks her fortunes within the camp as she learns who can be trusted and who should be kept at a safe distance, something that is not always possible.
The background environment of the characters is well written, introducing their culture, their class hierarchy and the different quirks of the main characters, who provide an interest factor of their own in being diverse and of varying classes, motivations and professions. A large portion of the background culture is the characters' belief in certain types of gods and the way in which the will of the gods determines a person's fate. I liked the way in which this was not over used and while emphasis was placed in the belief system in question, it did not dilute the other aspects of the novel. There are a myriad of gods who are referred to in the book so it helps a great deal that the author has provided a grid referring to who they are and what their relevance is.
Another aspect of the book I also very much enjoyed the ingenious ways in which Firethorn finds her way through life and the methods she uses with herbs in terms of healing, taking care of herself and snaring the heart of the man she loves. It does not always go according to plan and the main character finds herself in some pretty dramatic situations involving both personal peril, affairs of the heart and being at the hands of the gods in terms of her fate.
I understand that Sarah Micklem is writing the second book in the 'Firethorn' trilogy and think it is a good sign that I can't wait to see what happens to the character next...!
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