Book cover: Cold-Forged Flame - Marie Brennan (a young woman holding a longbow, hair tossed by the wind)A people in need summon a woman by magic, binding her to their cause. She must fight her way across an enchanted landscape to win her freedom. She doesn’t know who – or even what – she is except strength and fury, so she has nothing left to lose …or does she?

After Lady Trent I will read anything Marie Brennan scribbles on the back of an envelope, so this fantasy novella was an easy sell. It’s also easy to like – so long as you like your protagonists grumpy, which I do. A lot. Cold-Forged Flame‘s fierce heroine has no fucks to give. She has no idea who she is, and she doesn’t have time to let it bother her too much – she’s too busy trying to figure out who these people are who have summoned her, what they want, and whether she can stab them.

I warmed to her immediately. Let’s face it: why should the clearly-not-entirely-human being you’ve summoned from another plane be remotely interested in doing your bidding or saving your ass just because you need them to?

However, our hard-nose heroine is pragmatic, so she soon ships off to the enchanted island as demanded – escorted by a lad who assures her it’s safer if she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Because that’s reassuring. The results is a very in-the-moment narrative. I suppose our heroine could succumb to angst, but her natural mode is ferocious so instead we get focused badassery. It’s rare that a female protagonist gets to be this single-mindedly capable, which I appreciated (the cover art captures her perfectly).

I also appreciated that as she settled into her mission, her attitude towards other people softened slightly. There’s a definite hint of misanthropist with a heart of gold, which is an archetype I love – she can’t quite resist giving good advice, and she’s not as mistrustful as she’d like to be. It suggests a character who will grow over time and get set up for emotional rollercoasters in the future.

I’d like to say more, but there’s not a huge amount to add on this occasion. It’s a self-contained adventure, with limited but enticing world-building. In the end, we find out enough about Ree (yes, we eventually find out her name and her nature) and about the world itself that I’d be happy to read more stories about them. It’s less a big reveal than a gradual confirmation of what I more or less assumed from the start, but it does leave Ree in an interesting situation for future adventures. This is a dip of the toe, but the water feels fine. I look forward to another swim.

***1/2