Wildfire: A Novel

( 6 )

Overview

The highly anticipated second book in Sarah Micklem’s liter- ary fantasy trilogy that began with the critically acclaimed debut, Firethorn.

Sarah Micklem brings her lush prose and rich imagina- tion to the second installment of this epic trilogy, set in an imaginary world as real as history and as marvelous as legend.

Sire Galan has forbidden his servant and lover Firethorn to follow him to war, but she disobeys, and sets sail with the army of ...

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Wildfire: A Novel

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Overview

The highly anticipated second book in Sarah Micklem’s liter- ary fantasy trilogy that began with the critically acclaimed debut, Firethorn.

Sarah Micklem brings her lush prose and rich imagina- tion to the second installment of this epic trilogy, set in an imaginary world as real as history and as marvelous as legend.

Sire Galan has forbidden his servant and lover Firethorn to follow him to war, but she disobeys, and sets sail with the army of Corymb to the land of Incus. During the crossing, Firethorn is struck by lightning. She regains consciousness to find her speech garbled and her memory in tatters. Despite her injuries, others see her as blessed, for she has survived the touch of a god, Wildfire. Priests and soldiers search her nonsensical utterances for hidden prophecies.

In the aftermath of battle, Firethorn is captured by the defeated king of Incus. He takes refuge in the kingdom where Firethorn was born, a place she remembered only in dreams. There, a world away from Galan, she discovers not only the land and language she was born to, but a life of unexpected luxury and power. But this privilege has a high cost, one which Firethorn may not be able to bear.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Intricate world-building rooted in vivid, visceral details and the harrowing journey, both physical and psychological, of the divinely afflicted, lightning-struck heroine of Wildfire make for a compelling read." — Jacqueline Carey, author of Kushiel's Mercy

"Micklem takes you on a fantastical ride filled with imagery, magic, and mayhem...and will enthrall readers from beginning to end." — Sherrilyn Kenyon, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"In Firethorn and Wildfire, Sarah Micklem treats the reader to rich, evocative language, and her art background shines through in her vivid creation of the setting. This is adventure fiction told in an ancient tapestry." — Emma Bull, author of Territory and War for the Oaks

"Micklem's follow-up to Firethorn (2004), the second volume in a projected trilogy, continues the adventures of a magically gifted young woman bound to handsome warrior Sire Galan. This tough, capable, intriguingly flawed heroine and her huge, dense, absorbing saga show no signs of running out of steam." — Kirkus

"Exquisite prose enhances this glowing tapestry narrated by Firethorn....Micklem has penned a rich and memorable tribute to endurance and self-enlightenment." — Publishers Weekly, starred

Publishers Weekly

The harsh realities of ancient war and a woman's struggle to break free of male dominance blend brilliantly in this dream-drenched sequel to Micklem's 2004 debut, Firethorn. Exquisite prose ("I had no edges between inside and out") enhances this glowing tapestry narrated by Firethorn, a healer, precognitive dreamer and slave struck by lightning while on a voyage to join her master. Believing she has been branded by the god Ardor Wildfire, she suffers a painful recovery that leaves her with a lopsided face, strange garbled speech and the ability to see shades. Sire Galan still desires her, but her rebellious acts strain their relationship. Then Galan's adversary, King Arkhyios Corvus, takes Firethorn captive, and her further travails lead her to truly understand the gift of "inward fire." Micklem has penned a rich and memorable tribute to endurance and self-enlightenment. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Though forbidden by her master and lover Sire Galan to accompany him to war, Firethorn disobeys and sails to the enemy land of Incus. Onboard, she suffers a lightning strike and can no longer speak coherently. Believed by the people of Incus to have been touched by the god Wildfire, she becomes a prophet and ends up in the hands of Incus's defeated king. In this second volume of the literary fantasy trilogy that began with Firethorn, Micklem maintains her high standard, offering memorable characters and vividly detailed places. Genre fans who enjoy epic fantasy featuring strong female protagonists will want this one. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/1/09.]


—Jackie Cassada
Kirkus Reviews
Micklem's follow-up to Firethorn (2004), the second volume in a projected trilogy, continues the adventures of a magically gifted young woman bound to handsome warrior Sire Galan. Disobeying his express command, redheaded, independent-minded Firethorn takes ship with the army in order to follow Galan. During the voyage she's struck by lightning; she survives this touch of the god Wildfire, though with shredded memories and garbled speech. Her companions regard her mangled utterances as oracular, and they are . . . but not always. Reunited with Galan (he's not too upset that she showed up), Firethorn shortly finds herself in the middle of a battle she doesn't understand, separated from her lover's side. She's captured by soon-to-be-king Corvus, but then he's forced to fight a civil war against Queenmother Caelum, and although Corvus manages to hold off Caelum's hated Wolf warriors, he's forced to flee across the mountains. Thanks to her true dreams, Firethorn guides the king safely into Lambanein-the place names sound Greek but the social structure resembles medieval Japan's-and tumbles into a whole new set of adventures and experiences. Packed with more details about the gods, their attributes and influences than most readers would probably prefer, but this tough, capable, intriguingly flawed heroine and her huge, dense, absorbing saga show no signs of running out of steam.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451646481
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/25/2011
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 1,105,990
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Micklem had jobs in a restaurant, printing plant, sign shop, and refugee resettlement agency before discovering that graphic design was an enjoyable way to make a living. She wrote Firethorn while working as an art director for children's magazines in New York City. She lives with her husband, poet and playwright Cornelius Eady, in Washington, D.C., where she is writing the second book of the Firethorn trilogy.

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Read an Excerpt


PROLOGUE

Wildfire

I disobeyed. I followed Sire Galan to war, though he had commanded me to go home. He'd been generous, granting me the use of a stone house on a mountainside for all of my days to come. But how could I call it home, a place I'd never seen? A blanket and the ground to lie on with Galan beside me, that was the home I claimed. It didn't suit me to be put aside, judged too weak to endure what lay ahead. I set my will against Sire Galan's, hazarding that if I did as I pleased, I might also please him.

He'd charged his horsemaster, Flykiller, with the duty of herding me home, along with the warhorses Galan had won in mortal tourney and was forbidden to ride -- all of us to be turned out to pasture. But I gave Flykiller the slip during the army's embarkation: two days of shouting and cursing, mules balking on gangways and men falling overboard, baggage and soldiers gone missing. In such confusion only thieves had been sure of their duties. I took refuge with my friend Mai, and set sail under the copper banners of the clan of Delve.

So I found myself now aboard a ship crossing a sullen green sea. Wretched, queasy, beset by misgivings. I lay curled up on deck, one leg heavy on the other, the bones bruising the flesh. My sheepskin cloak was sodden, and from time to time a drop of seawater crawled down my back. The ship creaked under us like an old alewife's hip joints, and stank of bilgewater, dung, salted fish, and the pungent pitch that coated the planks and rigging.

Before we left Corymb, the priests had prayed for a wind from north-ofeast, the domain of Rift, and the god of war had been pleased to send it.For four days this strong cold wind had driven the fleet apace toward the kingdom of Incus. The ships went heavy laden, but we rode no lower in the water for bearing the weightiest cargo of all, Rift's banes: war, dread, and death.

Yet the war had commenced without us. A tennight ago King Thyrse in his wisdom had sent a small force of men ahead across the Inward Sea to make landfall at the port of Lanx; Sire Galan and his clansmen of Crux were among them. The king had called them a dagger. A dagger is your best weapon for treachery, and by treachery they were to pass the city's gates, for the king's sister, Queenmother Caelum, had allies to let them in. By now they'd taken Lanx or failed in their purpose. In two or three days, if the wind stayed willing, we'd know their fate, and therefore our own, whether we would face a sea battle and siege, or the grudging welcome owed to conquerors.

The ship was crowded. Idle foot soldiers sat on the rowing benches, dicing and quarreling for amusement. Mai and I had laid claim to a small space behind the mainmast, between great baggage chests fastened to the deck, and we'd stretched a canvas overhead to make a shelter. Two of her nine children accompanied her on this campaign: her only son, Tobe, and third-daughter Sunup to look after him. We all suffered from Torrent's hex, seasickness, which made Sunup listless, and Tobe fretful, and gave me a qualmish stomach. Mai suffered the most. She'd always seemed to me as strong as she was stout, and she was stout indeed. But her strength had dwindled quickly at sea, and I was more troubled than I was willing to show.

I sat up beside Mai and leaned against a baggage chest. She was white about the nostrils and her round cheeks had turned yellow as an old bruise. There was sweat on her brow despite the wintry chill in the air. She had her arms clasped over her midriff. She grimaced at me and said, "I think Mouse is trying to thump his way out."

I put my palm against the hard hill of her belly and felt the kicks of the child she carried within. A boy, Mai claimed, for the way he rode high, and she thought he'd come about the time of Longest Night, nearly a month away. She'd named him Mouse because she swore he had too much Mischief in him -- Mischief, the boy avatar of the god Lynx, who goes everywhere accompanied by a scurry of mice. I knew she dreaded this birth, for her last child had been stillborn after a long and dangerous travail, and it seemed to me the name was a poor jest and an ill omen. But Mai's wit was ever on the sharp side.

I leaned over and whispered to Mouse, "Too soon, little one. Have patience."

"Let him come, I don't care," Mai said. "He'll split me in two if he gets any bigger. Besides, sick as I am, I couldn't feel worse."

"Hush." I nodded toward Sunup, who lay next to me with her head under a blanket. She was not yet eleven years of age, and such talk might frighten her.

"She'll know a woman's travail soon herself. Time she learned about it."

Tobe was cradled in a coil of tarry rope covered with old grain sacks, with Mai's old piebald dog dozing beside him. Now the boy sat up and began to wail. I took him on my lap and wrapped his cold feet in a fold of my kirtle. Mai had suckled him for two years and only just weaned him, and he still clamored for the tit. I gave him a bit of dried apple to chew, and hugged him. Spoiled or not, he was sweet enough to nibble on.

Sire Torosus came to see Mai, walking along the narrow gangway where whiphands paced to make the oarsmen keep the beat when the winds were not so obliging. He jumped down beside us, and the piebald hound bowed before him and wagged his mangy tail back and forth. Sunup and I moved over so that Sire Torosus could sit beside Mai. He was narrow where Mai was broad, and she was taller by a forehead. But if a man dared say to Mai's face that they were mismatched, she would wink, saying Sire Torosus was big where it counted. And when the man made some lewd boastful answer, as he always did, she'd chase him away with her raucous laugh, saying, "It's his heart that's big, lad -- I wager yours is the size of a filbert, and just as hard!"

Sire Torosus put his hand on Mai's leg. She kept her face averted and said, "I beg you, go away. I'm not fit to be seen."

"You're too vain." He gave her a buss on the cheek, and she flapped her hand at him.

Tobe squirmed in my lap and reached out for Sire Torosus, who let him stand upright on his knees and use his beard as a handhold.

Sire Torosus said to me, "Is there nothing you can do for Mai?"

It pained me to have to show him my palms, empty of comfort. All my remedies, all my herb lore, had failed. I could cool a fever with my hands, but the hex of Torrent Waters was a cold, wet malady, and I was powerless to draw out the chill that had settled deep inside Mai.

Sunup asked her father, "Is she going to die?" She had the pinched look of fear.

"Of course not," he said, and I met his eyes for a moment.

I said, "I never heard seasickness was mortal, only that it made folks wish they were dead."

Sire Torosus said to Mai, "Won't you come to the cabin, my dumpling, and lie on the featherbed?"

He had a berth in the sterncastle with the other cataphracts and armigers of the Blood. Mai had told me she was made to feel unwelcome when she tried to stay there with the children. She touched his arm, but still she wouldn't look at him. "It's stifling inside. Not a breath of air that doesn't stink."

He sighed and gave Tobe back to me.

Fifteen years they'd been together, Sire Torosus and Mai. He had a wife, of course, and an heir of his Blood -- just as Sire Galan did, who had married a year ago and promptly sired a son. But Sire Torosus was never long from Mai's bed, and they had nine living children to prove it. She was his sheath, and I daresay a truer wife to him than the one he'd left at home.

Sheath had a filthy sound in men's mouths, being another byname for a woman's quim, like mudhole or honeypot. But that was the name we went by, those of us who had taken up with a warrior of the Blood or a mudborn soldier and followed him to war, each of us sheath to a blade. From sheath to whore was but a little slip. Often it happened that a woman took a chance on some likely man who lured her with fine promises and caresses, only to find herself at his mercy, lent or sold to his companions. I'd taken such a chance, and it was my good fortune that Sire Galan had proved jealous rather than generous when it came to sharing my favors.

A two-copper whore, without even a blanket of her own, envies a harlot who serves only men of the Blood, who in turn envies a sheath who must please one man only, and above all the sheath of a cataphract such as Sire Galan, the most admired hotspur among the hotspurs of the army. I had merely to stand near him to shine by reflection. I didn't pride myself on this -- to be eminent among the despised was still to be despised. But I'd chosen to be Galan's sheath and I would do the same if it were mine to do over; I ought to be brazen, and wear the word sheath proudly, and never flinch at it.

Why then did I suffer a pang of envy to see Mai with Sire Torosus, to think of their many years together, when my time with Sire Galan could be measured by the month? It was foolish of me. She might hoard in her memory years gone by, to be sure, but no more than I, no more than any sheath, could she store up years that might not come to pass. A warrior is a prodigal spender of his days, and not a miser of them.

I knew this, yet I went on as if Galan would live forever. He might be dead already.

But that thought was dangerous, it could not be borne or believed. I felt the bond stretched taut between Galan and me, anchored by a hard knot under my breastbone. I would know if that bond were severed. Surely I would know.

That night we huddled together under our cloaks, Sunup and I with little Tobe between us. The dog put his head over my ankles. I was weary, my bones ached, and I drowsed and dreamed. When I woke, the dream was gone and there was nothing left of it but the sure knowledge that I'd lost something sweet.

Tobe squirmed in his sleep until he twisted my old sheepskin cloak about him and pulled it off my back. Greedy boy. Now he kicked as if he were too hot, and I gently tugged the sheepskin away from him and covered us again.

We'd dallied autumn away in the Marchfield, preparing for war, and already the Crone had visited with her winnowing basket full of snow. Winter wasn't a fit season for campaigning, it was a season for making and mending. When I'd served in the Dame's manor, even the shortest days of winter had seemed ample: time enough for the Dame to weave a common jillybell in a tapestry, or for me to steep skeins of wool in a dyebath until the color sang. Time enough for the Dame's housekeeper, Na, to tell stories when there was a pile of stitching for our chapped fingers; time enough for singing the longest ballads.

There was sweet pain in recalling the hands of the Dame and Na busy about their work, for they were dead, and all I had of each was a finger bone that I kept hidden in a pouch under my skirts. They had raised me, a motherless child, so well that I never pined for the mother I couldn't remember. Now they were shades, each on a solitary journey, yet sometimes I called on them for counsel.

With numb fingers I untied the pouch from the cord around my waist, and I ducked out from under the awning and climbed to the top of a storage chest. While I'd slept, clouds had descended; they hung so low that the ship's masts scraped their underbellies, and we sailed through the narrow crack between sea and sky. Nothing could be seen of the full Moon but a faint glow. The three galleys of Delve sailed in close company, and beyond them the rest of the fleet was scattered over the sea. As we bobbed up and down, their lanterns seemed to blink, hidden and revealed by the endless swells. I had gotten used to the motion at last; just the faintest flutter in my belly, nothing troublesome.

I was as alone as I could be aboard ship, with only the sailors on watch and the helmsman high in the sterncastle. I took my treasures from the pouch: the two finger bones and Galan's pledge to me of a house and lands on Mount Sair, inked on a linen scrip that I kept folded in a neat knot. I'd turned my back on his gift when I chose to follow him, but I cherished it nevertheless. I tucked the scrip in my sleeve for safekeeping.

The pouch was a circle of leather fastened by a thong, and I loosened the drawstring and smoothed the pouch flat on my lap to show the divining compass painted inside. After my first divining compass had been destroyed in the fire that burned Galan's tent in the Marchfield, I made this one myself, using an awl and string to scribe the three circles, one inside the other, for the three kinds of avatars, male, female, and elemental. I'd crossed the compass with direction lines to divide it into twelve arcants, each the realm of a god. Then I'd labeled the arcants, painting the godsigns as neatly as I could around the horizon of the compass, setting the twelve gods in their places one beside the other in the same succession that their constellations appeared in the Heavens. I'd been pleased, in the making, to see how well the compass reflected the order of the world.

I held the bones in my palm: the Dame's was dyed blue, and Na's had a red tip. They were tiny things, these bones, the topmost joints from the pointing fingers of their right hands. Na's sister Az had given them to me, though it was forbidden to keep relics of the dead. She was a skilled diviner, but I'd seen her throw the bones only once, and after that had to find my own way with them.

No doubt it was selfish to ask the shades of the Dame and Na to tarry on their journey, and strive so hard to speak to me when I understood them so imperfectly. But I believed -- I hoped -- they wouldn't begrudge me an answer, for they'd been fond of me when they were alive. I closed my hand around the bones and whispered into the hollow of my fist: Will I see Galan again?

I threw in haste and the ship tilted, mounting the slope of a wave, and the bones nearly tumbled from my lap. I snatched them up before they could roll away, and cast again, three times in all, just as Az had shown me, the first for character, the second for time, and the third for the gods who governed the question and must be honored or appeased. I mulled over the signs, wishing -- as often I'd wished before -- that I had Az's knowledge of the avatars, that I might understand how each sign bore upon the others. They could not be understood singly.

The Dame touched Crux Heavens on the first throw, which I took to be her judgment of Sire Galan's character. In ancient days Crux Sun bore seven sons to mortal men, who founded the seven houses of the clan of Crux, and one of those sons was Sire Galan's forefather. So it was no wonder that with the god's Blood in Galan's veins, he partook of Crux's attributes. Yet of the three avatars of Crux -- the Sun, Moon, and Heavens -- I'd always thought Galan most akin to the Moon in his fickle nature. He'd given me reason enough to think so. Had I misjudged him? Perhaps he was indeed more like the Heavens: constant as the stars when he gave his word, and changeable as the weather in his moods. I prayed now for fair skies sailing to him, and a fair welcome when I arrived, but if he greeted me with storms, I was determined not to be daunted.

In the second cast the Dame landed on Hazard Peril, in the outer ring of the compass that represents the future, and Na touched the Heavens. Galan -- the Heavens -- in Peril. It was not as ominous as it sounded. If Galan was in peril, he was still alive. And Peril could mean a shield against danger, rather than danger itself. Either way, I took the two signs together as good tidings, and I would have been content with that -- more than content -- if not for the third cast, for the gods.

Both finger bones landed in Ardor Wildfire, but they pointed in contrary directions: the tip of the Dame's bone touched Torrent Waters, and Na's touched Delve Will. It was common sense that I should pray to the Waters to permit my crossing, and to Will to protect Delve's ship that bore me. But I was uneasy that both the Dame and Na insisted on Wildfire, Ardor's most unruly aspect: capricious, greedy, and wrathful.

A sign so emphatic must be a warning, and I feared it was meant for Sire Galan. In the Marchfield he had sparked a discord between the clans of Crux and Ardor that had grown into a conflagration. King Thyrse had commanded the clans to satisfy their honor by mortal tourney, and put an end to the feud. Crux had won, and Sire Galan had made enforced peace with the clan of Ardor, but had he made peace with the god Ardor?

I had my own reasons to propitiate the god. Ardor had saved my life twice -- or rather, spared it twice -- and also granted me small blessings: a healing song from the firethorn tree, the knack of seeing in the dark, and the gift in my hands of drawing fire from fevers and burns. I was grateful; at times I was even flattered. And yet it was no great boon to become one of the god-bothered. I would rather creep the rest of my life beneath the notice of gods than receive more such attentions.

I thanked the Dame and Na for their warning, and sacrificed to the gods as they'd advised. I made a small cut on my arm and sprinkled blood on the deck, and prayed to Torrent and Delve. To Ardor Wildfire I gave a hank of hair from my forelock, burning it with a coal from my fireflask. The singed hair smelled foul. I prayed to Wildfire that Sire Galan be spared Ardor's wrath, for he'd done his best to make amends. Furthermore I vowed that when I got to shore, I would burn at Wildfire's altar as much myrrh as I could get for a golden coin, which was all the gold I had, and I'd see that Sire Galan did the same.

Before dawn the sailors began their daily commotion. I was too restless to try to sleep anymore in our little shelter, which was rank with sickness. I took Mai's pot to empty it over the side, and leaned on the rail behind the forecastle to watch pleats of foam unfolding in the ship's wake. I'd left my cloak behind with Tobe, and the wind twisted my gown and yanked at my headcloth as it drove us along.

They were a noisy lot, the sailors, always shouting. I'd heard some of them call their ship Jouncy, and name her a wanton and a slut; they said she was the fastest whore that ever lived, and the quickest to capsize for a likely lad. There was pride in their insults. Indeed the ship was hasty, and she moved like a whore who enjoys her business, side to side and up and down. Her body was lean and her prow was sharp and at the rear she was high and round. Bright paint made her look a bawd. Her sails were striped like a harlot's skirts, and bellied out as if she'd been gotten with child by the wind.

Between night and morning I'd found my sea legs, and I felt I was astride the ship, riding her. I leaned over the rail to put my hand on her flank as she plunged forward. I adored her just then, the trull, and I felt a kinship with her too, for she came from the Kingswood where I was raised. No doubt her great keel had grown there in a grove of ship oaks, in a tree patiently shaped into the proper curve by woodsmen with cables and stakes, over the course of half a hundred years or a hundred. Her planking was of larch and her three masts of fir. The shipwrights had made a new living thing from these felled trees, and now her sheathing and pegs swelled in the water, her mortises and tenons strained, and she moaned. She was as much a wind creature as a sea creature.

The Sun rose behind us and colored the sky and sea red. The clouds overhead had lifted, or perhaps they had outpaced us to gather in the west, where a dark shadow hovered over the sea; the Sun's light did not seem to reach there. We raced toward those clouds, or perhaps they raced toward us, and as we came closer they reared up thunderheads like a range of sky mountains, and their shadows turned the silver water dull as hammered pewter. The clouds let down a billowing gray curtain and the horizon vanished.

Our sailors hailed the other galleys of Delve, using their own sea language that even the foreigners among them understood, but I did not. There was a great bustle as oarsmen -- half of them mud soldiers, for there weren't enough seasoned mariners in the fleet -- ran out the oars. The whiphands played their shrill whistles and the ships drew farther apart. Sailors took down the huge mainsail and hoisted a small square one, so we ran with just the storm sail and the smaller sails fore and aft.

A sailor went by on his way up the ladder of the forecastle, and said to me, "You might ought to go below."

I said, "Will it be bad?"

"We're in for a bit of a squall," he said.

No doubt the warning was kindly meant, but I was too ignorant to be afraid. I found it exhilarating, the shrill windsong in the rigging, the changeable light on the sea. A priestess of Delve and her attendants were on the high deck of the sterncastle, chanting and shaking copper disks. Cataphracts and armigers of the Blood joined them in prayers to ward off the storm and call down Delve's blessings to strengthen the metal that held the ship together. Waves rose higher, sharp edged, with frills and streaks of foam. We came thumping down into a trough and cold spray doused me, and I shivered and licked my lips and tasted salt. The pigs and cattle penned on deck were restless, and in the hold mules brayed and horses thumped against their stalls.

I made my way back to Mai and found Tobe and Sunup sheltered in her embrace. The awning overhead was flapping and I took it down. Mai said, "We're going in," shouting to be heard above the wind. I took Tobe in my arms and he began to cry. It was hard for Mai to get up, and Sunup and I both braced ourselves to help her. We staggered toward the hatch just behind the mainmast, weaving between the rowers' benches and the wall of baggage chests.

Rift's wind betrayed us, vanishing in an instant. A wind came from straight ahead and the sails fluttered against the masts and sent us lurching back until I thought we might tip over. But the ship righted herself and slid sideways down the face of a wave. And now wayward gusts came from here, from there, and the ship flew before them, running wherever they'd have her go.

Bagboys and jacks and foot soldiers jostled in the open space around the mast, waiting to go down in the hold with the horses. Mai and her children entered the dark hatch, but I hesitated. We had reached the cloud curtain, and we passed through into a new realm of white and gray, the water dark as charcoal, the air filled with hard grains of snow that skirled around us, snow sprites turning widdershins over the deck and sea. The other ships had vanished. I think Mai called me to come below, but sailors had already lashed down the hatch cover.

I heard rumbling in the distance, a muffled roar I didn't recognize until it careened closer. Thundersnow. The whiteness around us flashed as if the Sun had winked. I thought of Na clutching me tightly during thunderstorms when I was little, for her comfort more than mine. She used to tell me thunder was the sound of Ardor Smith at his anvil, and lightning was Ardor Wildfire dancing, and the safest place to be in a storm was home by the hearth, protected by Ardor Hearthkeeper.

Thunder cracked above my head and rolled away from us, and I ducked without thinking. Lightning branched across the veil of snow like a white tree, and the sight burned into my vision so that when I closed my eyes I saw the same shape, a green tree against darkness.

The waves no longer marched by ranks, but heaved up in confusion and burst against the ship from all sides in a great froth. Oars were as useless as straws in the heavy seas. Drudges cowered under the benches, crying out at every thunderclap and covering their ears. The ship pitched and wallowed, and sometimes she managed to climb to the peak of a wave, and sometimes dove through an oncoming wall of water, and even sure-footed sailors fell and were swept across the canting deck; a few went overboard.

I clung to the ropes of a baggage chest, willing the ship forward. There were gods in this storm, Ardor in the thunder and lightning, Torrent in the churning waters, and Crux in the snow-filled sky, all of them hurling winds at the fleet. Did they mean to founder us? Or did they contend over whether we should be saved or destroyed?

I feared worse. I feared they took no heed of us, and waged a mock battle for their sport, and all my frail hopes, and the great ambitions of the king and his sister, Queenmother Caelum, and all these ships too, were merely kindling to be broken between sky and water.

I shook in dread, in awe -- but something fierce in me was not humbled, it roused in answer to the storm's ruthlessness, so that I nearly laughed in the teeth of the wind. What did our insignificance matter, our brief lives? At that moment no more was required of me than to witness the gods storming, their vast discord. I couldn't regret seeing it, even if it was the last sight I ever saw.

The air crackled and I felt a touch, a hand stroking upward along my spine. My skin prickled everywhere and my hair stood upright. The storm split open with a wedge of light and sound, and a blinding whiteness struck the mast and reached for me.Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Micklem

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Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    Great read

    One of my top best books in fantasy. Im in great anticipation for the third book.

    Firthorn and wildfire are page turning great books. Be warned this very much an adult book!

    Great read!

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  • Posted March 10, 2011

    Smartly written.

    Amazing, smartly written Fantasy novel for adults. One of my favorites.

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  • Posted May 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    entertaining fantasy

    The slave Firethorn the healer, precognitive sheath and bedmate to her owner is hit by lightning while following her master Sire Galan though she knows she disobeyed his explicit order she wait for his return. Firethorn assumes the god Ardor Wildfire struck her visage; her healing is slow and painful while her face is off center and her memory and speech spotty and incoherent. Additionally she has gained an eerie skill of seeing shades.

    Although a bit upset with his bounded healer for disobeying him Sire Galan remains attracted to Firethorn, but has doubts about her unbecoming behavior just before his enemy King Arkhyios Corvus abducts her from the battlefield. Soon after the monarch leads his soldiers in battle against the loyalists of Queenmother Caelum, who wants to take the throne form him. His side contains her vicious Wolf warriors, but he flees across the mountains guided by Firethorn's dreams to the haven Lambanein

    The sequel to FIRETHORN is an entertaining fantasy as the intrepid Firethorn continues to grow while undergoing further adventures. The story line is action-packed starting with the heroine's disobedience, but is not quite as fast-paced as the previous novel because there is information overload describing the Gods. Still readers will enjoy WILDFIRE as "the Gods Must Be Crazy" to encourage the latest human fatal mistakes.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 29, 2010

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    Posted May 25, 2009

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    Posted January 13, 2010

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