Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan

(mild spoilers)

This year is the year of the sequel, and one sequel I’d been keeping for a rainy day was the novella Lightning in the Blood, the follow up to Cold-Forged Flame. For those who can’t be bothered to click the link, I thought Cold-Forged Flame was absolutely fantastic. Marie Brennan made me love a book in present tense for crying out loud.

Therefore it is with a heavy heart I have to say that Lightning in the Blood is a very different book.

I mean that both in terms of premise and quality. Cold-Forged Flame was a thrilling mythopoeic adventure, with a throwback focus on action scenes and weirdness combined with completely modern and clean prose. Just thinking about it makes me want to revisit. Lightning in the Blood follows our semi-spirit protagonist, Ree, into a more mundane scenario. She’s crossing into Solaike, site of an (off-page) revolutionary victory to see her only friend, Aadet, when she is surprised by a band of the persecuted Korenat. A lot of the story is taken up with talking to those people, with worrying about politics and listening to stories of the Korenat. Only in the last third or so we switch back to an action focus and even there, it’s in fairly normal terrain.

Now that’s no bad thing necessarily, although we’ve gone from a concept I love and don’t see a lot of these days to one I like well enough and see a ton of. Which is a fact that might colour the next paragraph.

But I just don’t think it’s as good. The main problem is it feels very slow moving for a novella, with it taking about 40-45 pages to get any sense of stakes and tension from the work. That’s fine with a novel, but here that’s a third of the story. There’s nothing else to draw me in either – no witty banter, no sense of atmosphere. The writing is smooth but there’s no killer turns of phrase that made me sit up a little. It’s just a pleasant fantasy story without much going on, and perhaps a little too much exposition to boot.

Eventually there’s a plot revelation that cranks up the narrative momentum but it was too little too late for my wandering attention and didn’t really go anywhere unexpected. Maybe it would have with more if not for the size of the book; maybe I just guessed well.

For a more patient fantasy fan, this book might well hit the spot. There’s nothing that I think is actively bad other than the pacing. But equally, there’s very little that made me actively excited about this book, and in a way that’s nothing that makes a heart heavier than that.

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