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Wildfire    by Sarah Micklem order for
by Sarah Micklem
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Scribner, 2009 (2008)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have been awaiting the sequel to Sarah Micklem's Firethorn with great anticipation since the latter was released in 2004. Wildfire does not disappoint. Throughout this second episode, Firethorn seems to see herself as a plaything of the gods - which can be perceived by readers as either superstition or a dark reality.

The series is set in a medieval fantasy world in which conquerors (the Blood) lord it over the land's original inhabitants, mudfolk. Orphaned Firethorn (of mysterious origins) was a drudge skilled in herb lore. She spent Carnal Night with highborn Sire Galan and followed him on campaign as his sheath. Her love flourished in the seedy, chancy world of the camp follower, but she often doubted his. As the first book ended, they were separated as Sir Galan embarked on campaign, after giving Firethorn the use of a stone house in the mountains and ordering her to go there. Of course she follows him.

As Wildfire begins, Firethorn is struck by lightnight at sea and left with her face lopsided, her speech strangely muddled, and with the ability to see ghosts and future events. In the port of Lanx, she's reunited with Sir Galan. She survives the enmity of her lover's powerful uncle and, the army on the move again, tends the sick, despite Sir Galan's objection to its cost to her own health.

Separated from the army, Firethorn is taken captive by the enemy leader, King Arkhyios Corvus and forced to march with the remnants of his army (which is harried continually) as it flees over the mountains to Lambanein, a land that is strangely familiar to Firethorn from her scant memories of childhood. There she's discarded by her captor, sold as a bondwomen to a cloth manufactory. Earning the enmity of a supervisor, Firethorn is tossed out to the bottom of the social ladder and becomes tharais, essentially an untouchable. Oddly this gives her more freedom of movement.

Seeking a means to return over the mountain to her lover, Firethorn becomes embroiled in King Corvus's plotting against the brother who betrayed him. He has her trained as a high ranked courtesan (she's a very successful one) and entered as an initiate of the Serpent cult. She's accepted as an adept, becomes Corvus's lover, but is then exposed as a tharais, and severely punished. As the episode ends, Firethorn muses about the gifts the gods had given her and decides to endure and return to her humblest gift, that of healing.

The men - and the gods - in this complex and most unusual series are consistently selfish and unreliable. Firethorn has served them, but now concludes that 'I never thought to ask myself whether I admired the purposes I served - whether I wanted to further them.' I am anxious to see where Firethorn's personal jouney - and new sense of independence - takes her next and hope the wait for another episode will be shorter this time.

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