Well, we are long overdue for a few book reviews, I think. But even though I finished Scythe a few weeks ago, I wanted to have This Golden Flame finished before I did another RBR. And, for reasons you’ll find below, it took me a little longer than anticipated to get through the book. So, here we are.
This may go without saying, but as is the case for all my rapid book reviews, I try to keep things spoiler-free. As in, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, and you’re trying to decide if you want to, the post should be safe. I hope you’ll let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these before, but of course, as the post is spoiler-free, I just ask that the comments remain such as well. 🙂 Enjoy.
Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade (audiobook)
A Synopsis: Aaslo and Matthias have grown up together, trained together, learned together. So, when Matthias learns he’s referenced in a prophecy, that he’s the only one who can save the world, of course Aaslo goes with him. And, when Matthias dies almost as soon as the quest begins, Aaslo is the only one willing to take up his mantle. (This is not really a spoiler. It happens in the first or second chapter. I thought his death was a misdirect. It was not.) He may not be part of the prophecy, but he refuses to lay down and accept their supposedly inevitable demise.
The Review: There are a lot of tropes that Kade tries to subvert throughout the novel, giving off the impression that Kade believes there is no such thing as a well-used trope. But, as I’ve discussed in my Let’s Talk Tropes posts, it is a matter of how they are used that’s important. Ironically, perhaps, it is the attempts at subversion that really ruins the novel. Especially when the prologue of the chapter is post-apocalyptic, distorting the stakes of the novel because it really does look like Aaslo’s mission is doomed to fail.
Additionally, the novel was not written well. The novel is told from several points of view, and several times, Kade accidentally slipped into another character’s PoV. Its narrator, Nick Podehl, was really good at accents (I also legitimately believed he was the same person who voiced Prince Zuko on Avatar the Last Airbender until I got too curious and looked it up.) I wasn’t crazy about how he read the action scenes; it really slowed them down.
The Recommendation: Honestly, if you’re really into Dungeons & Dragons, Fate of the Fallen reads like a campaign. It’s very episodic in nature, so if that’s your cup of tea, you may find this more enjoyable than I. Additionally, it reads, in a way, like a fanfiction crossover between Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time. If you like the concepts of those stories but found them too intimidating to get into (they are no small commitments, I’ll grant you that), then you might like this book too. But I, for one, did not.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
A Synopsis: In the far-ish future, every disease has been cured. Even death. The Scythedom has been established to keep the population under control, and when Citra and Rowan are offered an apprenticeship to a scythe, they feel honor-bound to agree. But not all is as it seems. A certain, small faction of Scythes chafe under current restrictions. They want to do more. It may fall to Citra and Rowan alone to fix the corruption within the ranks of the Scythedom. But they have to survive their apprenticeships first.
The Review: Scythe‘s biggest strength is its setting concept. It’s a refreshing change from the books I read when I was younger where the solution to overpopulation was always to limit the number of children. It did undermine its own stakes by not grounding the reader first in the society that it’s supposed to be serving (see my spoiler-filled setting study for more details), but the concept itself was intriguing. There is no set way to determine who should be “gleaned,” and the reader does get to see several Scythes’ interpretations of their mission.
I found the novel a bit slow-paced. When I get bored with a novel, I tend to flip ahead to a random page to see if there’s any action to look forward to. I wound up doing that multiple times throughout my reading experience, even spoiling myself about the ending pretty early on (not that that sort of thing really bothers me.) One of the other positives about the novel, however, is the romance. It was not written to be a very intense, physical relationship, but rather one where the romantic feelings were based on a mutual respect for the other persons’ capabilities. It read like it could’ve been an ace relationship, especially on Rowan’s side. Whether or not either of the characters are ace remains to be seen–they probably aren’t–but it was a refreshing change of pace.
The Recommendation: This really feels like a book that fans of Divergent would enjoy. It’s not dystopia, really. There’s only a handful of “evil” characters to ruin an otherwise workable system. But it does involve a futuristic setting, one with a culture that actively reflecsts the changes of the times, with a corrupt system that the protagonists feel the need to change. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like This Savage Song, it was written with the knowledge of the tropes of the genre, and used them appropriately. And, I will say, that despite the relative slowness of the read, by the time it was over, I still found myself wishing I had the next book in hand. That has to say something about the compelling nature of the overall narrative.
This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria
A Synopsis: For two hundred years, the inner workings of the automatons have become an obsolete mystery. The great giants have stood like statues in this Greek-inspired setting. Karis, an unwilling acolyte of the Scriptorium–the government body of her country–finds an automaton that she can actually wake up, one with a conscience named Alix. Together, and with the help of her friend Dane, they escape their island in the search of Karis’s long-lost brother. Their journey will take them to the heart of the Scriptorium, where Karis and Alix will discover there are far bigger stakes at play.
The Review: Generally speaking, representation in this book was a big plus. By page twenty, the protagonist is openly describing herself as ace (she doesn’t use the terminology, but unlike Scythe, it is very clear what the intention is). Later, a character mentions outright that they use they/them pronouns. There’s also two gay characters. And I believe several of the characters come from different parts of the globe, so presumably, there’s also diversity in ethnicity. But if you’re hoping for a book that talks about what it’s actually like to be one of those things, this is not it. Even Karis’s asexuality felt very surface value.
Overall, lack of descriptive depth was the crux of many of the issues found in the novel. All of the characters felt very two-dimensional, although I’ll admit that a few of the main characters felt on the rounder side of flat. The magic system was likewise difficult to picture, so when finally reaching the big conflict, it wasn’t immersive. Even getting to the big conflict felt like a chore; despite the book only being 380 pages (and a short 380 pages at that), there was, again, that discrepancy between stakes and conflict that I mentioned in my above Scythe setting study. I wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get into it. With unrealistic dialogue, a far-too-speedy resolution to a major problem, and a weird clash between the Ancient Greek visuals and the steampunk tropes, it was impossible to get into.
The Recommendation: This Golden Flame is not necessarily a bad book. It is not bad representation, and there isn’t much in the way of plot holes or anything to detract from the overall okay-ness of the story. So if you’re looking for a relatively fast fantasy read, if you like dabbling in the concept of steampunk, you may like this book. If you’re hungry for representation, especially if you like seeing queer protagonists (rather than just have the queerness relegated to side characters), you may find that your interest in the inclusivity far outweighs your concern over anything I’ve mentioned here, and that’s cool too. I rated this as two stars only because of my lack of interest. Others may feel differently.