Firebrand (Rebel Angel Series #1)
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Firebrand (Rebel Angel Series #1)

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by Gillian Philip

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At the end of the sixteenth century, religious upheaval brings fear, superstition, and doubt to the lives of mortals. Yet unbeknownst to them, another world lies just beyond the Veil: the realm of the Sithe, a fierce and beautiful people for whom a full-mortal life is but the blink of an eye. The Veil protects and hides their world…but it is fraying at


At the end of the sixteenth century, religious upheaval brings fear, superstition, and doubt to the lives of mortals. Yet unbeknownst to them, another world lies just beyond the Veil: the realm of the Sithe, a fierce and beautiful people for whom a full-mortal life is but the blink of an eye. The Veil protects and hides their world…but it is fraying at the edges, and not all think it should be repaired.

Discarded by his mother and ignored by his father, sixteen-year-old Seth MacGregor has grown up half wild in his father's fortress, with only his idolized older brother, Conal, for family. When Conal quarrels with the Sithe queen and is forced into exile in the full-mortal world, Seth volunteers to go with him.

But life beyond the Veil is even more dangerous than they expected, and Seth and Conal soon find themselves embroiled in a witch-hunt—in which they are the quarry. Trapped between the queen's machinations at home and the superstitious violence of the otherworld, Seth must act before both of them are fed to the witch-hunters' fires…

Brimming with intrigue and rebellion, Firebrand is the first book in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip, the Carnegie Medal–nominated author of Crossing the Line and multi-award-nominated Bad Faith.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Seth MacGregor, a young noble-born Sithe, isn’t wanted at the queen’s court by his mother or at home by his father, but a life of angry loneliness is averted when his older half-brother, Conal, shows him kindness and warrior’s skills. The lessons come just in time to help Seth as he gets entangled in the manipulations of the Sithe queen, Kate NicNiven, who wants to destroy the Veil protecting their world. One misstep exiles Seth and Conal amid their most dangerous enemies: the superstitious humans of late 16th-century Europe. Like Seth, Philip’s YA-ish Rebel Angels series launch, already published in the U.K., doesn’t look like much at first but soon develops into a force to be reckoned with. When Seth and Conal challenge those who vastly outmatch them, it becomes a stirring tale of loyalty and love. The multilayered bonds between the characters make up for a by-the-numbers story. Agent: Allison Hellegers, Rights People, on behalf of Keith Charters, Strident Publishing. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Once a year, a new novelist really blows me away. Last year it was Suzanne Collins with The Hunger Games…. This year it's Gillian Philip's Firebrand…. A fantastically violent, utterly thrilling tale.... Firebrand is one of the very best...Philip’s clear prose is as fiery as whiskey…. The best fantasy novel of 2010."

The Sunday Times

"Philip has created an utterly believable other world, where male and female are equals in arms. It is often stark and brutal but with moments of heartbreaking beauty."

The Guardian

VOYA - Sean Rapacki
Reading the first book in a new fantasy series can be an exciting experience if the author is skilled and imaginative. Philip is both of these things, and more importantly, she brings an original perspective to the world of faery that is dark and seductive. She writes of a people called the Sithe, who, though similar in appearance to humans, live much longer, have a magical aspect to their being, and have social conventions that might seem cruel or wild. Protagonist Seth MacGregor is feral, even by the standards of his own people. An unwanted bastard child of a clan leader, he has a dark heart that only lightens in his almost-worshipful love of his half-brother, Connor. The world of the Sithe exists side by side with our own, although time moves quite differently in the two realms. When the evil queen of the Sithe, who would like nothing more than to eliminate the boundaries between the two realms and enslave humanity, exiles the brothers to the human world, Seth sees firsthand the poverty, ignorance, and fear that rule mortals. Living among them hardens him as he deals with the repercussions of their ignorance and fear, and softens him as he sees how fragile they are and the hardships they face. Philip has created a compelling tale with top-notch world building and characterization. Readers will thrill to her creations and eagerly await the next offering in her Rebel Angels series. Reviewer: Sean Rapacki
Library Journal
"Once a year, a new novelist really blows me away. Last year it was Suzanne Collins with The Hunger Games…. This year it's Gillian Philip's Firebrand." So said Amanda Craig in the London Sunday Times. In the war-ravaged 16th century, the Sithe dwell safely behind the Veil, but exiled half-feral brothers Seth and Conal must return when danger threatens.
Kirkus Reviews
First in an otherworld fantasy trilogy, nominally for young adults, that first appeared in the U.K. in 2010, from the author of Opposite of Amber (2011, etc.). In a dramatically arresting opening scene, we meet young Sidhe narrator Seth MacGregor as he aims a crossbow bolt at the head of his beloved older half brother Conal in order to save him the agony of being burned at the stake as a witch. How he reaches this point occupies the first half of the book. The realms of the immortal Sidhe and mortal humans are separated by a magical barrier, the Veil, created in the distant past by Sidhe witches, and time flows differently on either side. Seth and Conal are sons of Sidhe clan leader Griogair. Conal's mother, the witch Leonora, is Griogair's bonded partner, while Seth's is the cruel and vindictive Lilith, adviser to the Sidhe queen, Kate NicNiven, who nurses ambitions to destroy the Veil (but to what end?). At 8 years of age, Lilith sent Seth to live in his father's dun, where he was ignored and belittled until Conal befriended him. Despite Conal's reassuring presence, Seth burns with rage and resentment; only his loyalty to Conal keeps him from self-destruction. Later, thanks to royal intrigue, Conal and Seth are exiled to the mortal realm, where they find themselves in a grim late-16th-century Scotland. Although they attempt to live quietly, compassionate Conal practices minor healing arts, but even these attract the unwanted attention of the new priest--a fanatical witch-burner who, the brothers are intrigued to learn, may not even be human. And thus we reach that arresting opening. Set forth in gritty, visceral detail, along with a few anachronisms ("When do they plan to evolve?" Seth wonders of the benighted Scots), curses, sex, violence and drinking, Seth grows in stature, understanding and empathy while learning to wield his rage as a weapon. One minor drawback: much of the deeper plotting takes place offstage. As ferociously compelling as Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, with which it invites comparison.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Rebel Angel Series, #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.02(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.18(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt



You deal with him.

That was the first and last communication my mother ever had with my father about me. My father was more surprised than angry when my mother’s emissary rode through the dun gates with a sullen brat on a pony behind him and an expression of pained endurance on his face. The man had ridden three days with me and I’d made sure they were the longest three days of his life. He was so glad to see the back of me, he didn’t even take bed and board from Griogair for the night; he stayed for one meal and a very stiff drink, then turned right round and rode back the way he came. I hope Lilith made it worth his while.

Even later my father was never angry about it. He wasn’t involved enough for that; at most he was mildly irritated. Deep down I’m sure he wasn’t convinced of my existence, that he thought I was just one more of Lilith’s illusions.

My stepmother believed in me, all right. I used to feel Leonora’s cold blue gaze like frost on my skin, and if I looked up, she wouldn’t look away. She was the only one who didn’t. The rest of the clann averted their eyes, as if I was a colossal embarrassment. Well, that’s what I was, so as soon as it became clear Griogair wasn’t going to embrace me as his long-lost heir, they adopted the policy of pretending I didn’t exist. The small band of children took more of an interest, the older ones freezing me out or taunting me at best, and giving me thrashings at worst. The younger ones ran from me: I made sure they did.

But my stepmother didn’t bully me or fear me or ignore me. She watched me. I thought it quite likely she’d eventually kill me, but I never could read Leonora’s eyes, let alone her mind. It wasn’t that she felt threatened by me; she wasn’t threatened by anyone. I’d watched her and my father together and I’m sure he never smiled at my mother like that, or touched her so gently, or spoke so tenderly. Certainly he never treated me that way. If he caught sight of me his brow would furrow and he’d set his teeth and look exasperated, as if I was a reminder of some great mistake, a souvenir he couldn’t get rid of. Leonora? All I could ever make out in her was pity and a degree of contempt, and I hated her for it. I’d have liked to hate my father too, but I couldn’t. All I ever wanted was his love, or if I couldn’t have that, his notice would do.

I never had a chance.

But my mother sent me back to him anyway. She was living at court by then, an adviser to the queen: oh, her exile had brought her up in the world. From being Griogair Dubh’s afterthought lover, she’d risen to be one of the most powerful courtiers in Kate NicNiven’s halls. What she didn’t need was a truculent attention-seeking toe-rag who was always getting into trouble, calling the captains names and the courtiers worse ones, getting thrashed on a regular basis and generally being an embarrassment. So she sent me back to Griogair.

I liked it better with my father anyway. The women of our race don’t do motherhood well, it’s a known fact, so I didn’t really miss Lilith, not after a while. Sithe women make wonderful fighters, wise and wily counsellors. If they’re healers or smiths they do it well; when they’re witches they excel at witchcraft. What they do not excel at is motherhood. It’s not something that happens easily, we’re not a fertile race; maybe that’s where those ridiculous stories come from, the ones about us being baby-stealers. Let me tell you, our women can barely tolerate their own brats, let alone someone else’s. Our women don’t yearn for children, because what’s the point mourning for centuries over something that may never happen? Instead they harden themselves, and even if they do breed they never quite shake off that hardness. Anyway, some of them don’t even take lovers, the loss of their virginity is so physically painful. Must be, to stay loverless for centuries.

Well, my mother must have got over that problem. She had plenty of lovers, though what she wanted more than anything was to be Griogair’s bound lover and that was something she’d never get for all her wiles, because he’d bound himself to Leonora decades before Lilith came along. When it became clear I wasn’t going to advance her cause in any way, Lilith lost interest in me altogether.

Which was fine by me. Being sent away from Kate NicNiven’s labyrinthine caverns was like breathing for the first time, and there was no-one I missed from her pale and haughty court. There had been even fewer children underground than there were above it, but anyway, I needed neither friends nor mother. At my father’s dun I was content to skulk in the shadows and watch; that way I could see how the fighters trained, how the children scrapped and competed, how the strange and complex hierarchies of dun life operated. There were daredevil games on horseback that I might have liked to join, and when the wild racing music played on moonlit nights I used to half-wish I could throw myself into the dance with the rest of them. But it was fine, I was fed and clothed and relatively safe, and I was learning a lot—not that anybody made me study, or even tried to make me work the fields or learn a practical skill. My education was self-inflicted and unconventional, but I knew that the lessons would come in useful for the rest of my life. The most useful of them was the one I learned first: I was responsible for myself. In life and death you’re on your own, and I knew that better than any of my peers.

It seems stupid now that I looked forward so much to living with my father. I must have had some childish romantic picture in my head, me and him doing father-son things together, fighting and hunting and laughing and confiding.

But it turned out he already had a son, a perfect one, so he didn’t need another.


Copyright © 2010 by Gillian Philip

Meet the Author

GILLIAN PHILIP was born in Glasgow, lived for twelve years in Barbados, and now lives in the north of Scotland with her husband, twin children, three dogs, two sociopathic cats, a slayer hamster, three chickens, and a lot of nervous fish.

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Firebrand 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
SmalltownSR More than 1 year ago
Oh my goodness, fantastic!!! It took just a little bit to get into this book; at first the flash back writing style took some getting used to. But, once the story takes a hold of you, it won't let go. Heart breakingly exquisite.
chapterxchapter More than 1 year ago
I’ve been seeing some of the reviews and ratings for this book and there was mixture of love for the book, and some of indecision.  But when I was given the opportunity to review this book, I was very intrigued by the synopsis!  And I, for one, am so glad that I read it!  I loved everything about this book.  A story of 2 worlds (Sithe and mortal), brothers, love, and loads of action. Seth MacGregor wants to feel like he belongs somewhere.  His mother, Lilith, pretty much abandoned him and left him with his uncaring father and stepmother.  But what made it all worthwhile was the brother he found in his half-brother, Conal.  Watching the relationship develop between Seth and Conal was something that I really loved to watch unfold.  We are introduced to an angst full, angry, lonely Seth who craves nothing more than to feel accepted by his father, but is only met with hateful eyes and being ignored.  I loved watching how Conal opened up his arms and his heart to Seth, and found ways in which to include him and feel like he’s part of the family.  True, in the beginning there were ups and downs, but just watch them warm up to each other, and come closer together is one that I adored. But when it comes to doing the bidding of the Sithe queen, Kate NicNiven, Conal will not bow down.  After a fight with the Kate that succeeds in pissing her off royally, Conal and Seth find themselves banished from their world, which by the way, is a world that lies just beyond our world and is forced to live and survive in our world…circa sixteen century.  But in a time where the pointing of fingers and ratting out anyone who is different as a witch, survival is but a difficult thing for these brothers. They do what they can to appear normal and try to blend in, but with a beauty that is anything than human, and with skills that can only be classified as “witchcraft” in this time, the brothers find that the only way they can survive is to try and find a way back to the very place they were banished. The opening scene in the book really captured my attention.  In the middle of a witch hunt where Conal is the intended victim to be burned at the stake (along with an “at the time” unknown woman), we witness Seth mourning the coming loss of his brother, and deciding when to let the arrow fly to kill his brother so that he won’t suffer when being burned alive.  We witness the love that the brothers have for each other as they speak to each other in their minds.  It certainly was a gripping scene for me, and I could not wait to see what was going to happen next!  Leaving the beginning in a gripping cliff hanger, author, Gillian Philip, takes the reader back to before the opening scene where we are given the back story of how the brothers came to be so close, and the past of Seth (which was heart breaking!). Of the experiences that Seth and Conal have in the two worlds that are explored in Firebrand, my favorite time for them would have to be their time on the human realm.  I found myself on the edge of my seat at various points of the book, nervous that the two brothers would be ousted as witches.  I loved the buildup that leads to the events that we see in the beginning of the book. I know that many readers out there may have been annoyed with the constant anger emanating off of  Seth, but I loved it!  Especially when we are treated with seeing the softer side of Seth.  It was those moments that I always looked forward to.  In a world where the years go by much slower than that of the human realm, the events that transpire at the end of the book killed me!  I didn’t expect it at all, and now thinking back, I totally should have!  But I was so engrossed in the story that was unfolding, that that little tidbit of info just flew over my head.  And the villains in this book?  Ehrmehgherd!  I LOVED to hate them.  They were written so well, that regardless of how awful their evil plot was, they made the book that much more interesting! I recommend this book to fans of Fae type reads, fans that enjoy heartwarming stories of brotherly love will really enjoy the relationship that builds between Seth and Conal, and fans of reads that have edge of your seat action and a storyline.
BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
There are times when I’m completely surprised and blown away by a book that bends and breaks all my expectations and, when that happens, I feel as though I’ve discovered something that will stick with me for a very long time. Such a book is Firebrand. I have to admit I’ve gotten a little tired of dark faerie themes but I haven’t quite given up yet and I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this one. I won’t say a lot about the story since many other reviewers have already done so but I do want to say that the 16th-century Scottish setting is a real enhancement, actually a character in itself. I like otherworldly settings but I think Ms. Philip’s choice of a place and time the reader can recognize is part of what makes this so special (and I’m probably influenced by the fact that I’ve visited Scotland and loved it). Ms. Philip’s characterization is also top-notch and I particularly appreciated the introduction of the Sithe into the human world rather than the reverse which is the usual theme. As fierce as they are, the Sithe are still a peaceful folk and are not prepared for the harshness of the human environs when their own queen forces them into it. Brothers Seth and Conal find themselves exiled beyond the Veil and are driven to return and take back what belongs to them but they are not prepared for the violence brought on by the humans’ superstitions, especially when they realize they are the quarry of the witch-hunters. I loved Queen Kate, not because I approve of her but because she is so finely drawn and so deliciously power-hungry. Seth and Conal, on the other hand, represent the best of the Sithe world and also a future tainted by human influences, and a girl named Catriona will have a lasting effect. Is Firebrand geared towards the young adult reader? Technically, I’d say no, but it’s certainly age-appropriate for older teens and I know they will enjoy this as much as adults will. Personally, I’m already yearning for the next book, Bloodstone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago