Have I ever mentioned how much I love Miyazaki movies? This is pertinent to this review, I promise. Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are two of my favorite movies of all time, and at the very least, the first quarter or so of this book reads a little like an epic fantasy combination of both of them with some Spirited Away sprinkled in. I don’t mean that to sound as if this book isn’t its own thing, because it is. It definitely is its own story, but it’s definitely at least partially influenced by Miyazaki and I am so, so on board with that.
For hundreds of years, the flame-wielding Embers have been the last line of defense against the nightmare creatures from the World Apart, but the attacks are getting worse. Kole Reyna guards Last Lake from the terrors of the night, but he fears for his people’s future.
When Kole is wounded by a demon unlike any they have seen before, the Emberfolk believe it is a sign of an ancient enemy returned, a powerful Sage known as the Eastern Dark.
Kole has never trusted in prophecy, but with his people hanging on the precipice, he reluctantly agrees to lead the Valley’s greatest warriors in a last desperate bid for survival. Together, they will risk everything in search of a former ally long-thought dead, and whether Kole trusts him or not, he may be the only one capable of saving them.
“If there’s a better way to do it, I’ve yet to meet the man who’s found it.”
“Perhaps you should ask a woman, then.”
I’m actually a little embarrassed at how long this book took me to read. Not by any fault of the story or author, but my spare time this last month or so has been taken up by an alarming amount of non-reading activities (I will be honest with you, this is mostly code for ‘I’ve been playing too many video games,’ but I have also been painting and redecorating my house. I swear I’m sort of productive sometimes!).
This story opens almost immediately into a fight with a demon that has come out of the forest, writhing in horrible squiggly demon tentacles that sounded, more or less like this guy right here. This is not a bad thing. There’s something to be said about your favorite things (fantasy novels) being inspired by your other favorite things (Ghibli movies). I’m totally on board with that.
It took a little while for me to get into the story, because there is a *lot* going on and a lot of information to be absorbed right in the beginning. We’ve got Kole, who is a Landkist. Landkist seems to be this world’s word for magic user. There are different kinds of Landkist. One for each of the elements, it seems. So, the label makes sense. Embers are the type that wield fire magic. So, they’re kind of like fire mages (actually more like fire benders, if you know what I mean). With me so far? There’s a lot to remember. It’s not super complicated though, once you remember the basics, and it’s well thought out. There’s a lot of development happening in the first 1/4 or so of the book and it was a little heavy at times. I think I mostly got the gist though. My biggest difficulty here was that sometimes characters are referred to by their surname, and sometimes their given name, and right at the beginning, when you don’t know who the hell everyone is yet… that’s confusing sometimes. I don’t think I ever really got a good feel for some of the background characters because of this.
The demons that plague the valley where the Embers live are from the World Apart, and the Embers are all that are protecting their town from them. When Kole fights the squiggly demon, he senses something that seems familiar to him, from back when his mother was killed. He thinks that this is no ordinary demon. The village elders say that this must be the return of the Eastern Dark, an evil Sage. The Embers used to live in the desert, until the Eastern Dark drove them out. The king of the Embers and the White Crest (a good Sage) went and defeated him. Now, the Eastern Dark is coming back and they need the White Crest’s help again… but nobody knows where he is. So, Kole’s bestie Linn puts together a team of the town’s greatest defenders, and they all go off to try and find The White Crest. And our real adventure begins!
I rather liked Kole and Linn. Actually a whole lot. Especially Linn. She was sassy and didn’t take anyone’s shit. Loved her. There was plenty of action throughout the book and it was well described and gave me a good feel for what was happening. The magic system was well thought out and made sense for the most part. There were a few twists and turns in the story that I didn’t see coming, and a nice, satisfying non-cliffhangery ending that leaves lots of room for further exploration in this world.
I’m excited to see where this series goes. Looking forward to the next one! I am down for more Ember action.
Honestly, my biggest question at the end of this book is… if, in the uh… heat of the moment (#sorrynotsorry), Embers get so hot that their skin can literally burn people… how on earth do they fu-I mean… *ahem* …..never mind. NOPE, NO QUESTIONS AFTER ALL (Kristen: asking those questions that classier people keep to themselves since… about 1982 or so, probably? Whenever baby Kristen learned to talk. :D)