Title: Lightning In The Blood
Author: Marie Brennan
Lushly woven against a foreign, and yet familiar, fantastical setting, this is the second epic adventure in Marie Brennan’s novella series with Tor.com. Only such an acclaimed and beloved fantasist could so deftly handle the intricacies of self and society, the struggle between reclaiming one’s own fate and suffering the ravages of time.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy.
Once, there was a call—a binding—and so, a woman appeared, present in body but absent in knowledge of her past self. Making the ultimate journey of rediscovery was not without its own pitfalls–or rewards–and now Ree, a roaming archon, spirit of legend and time and physically now bound to her current form, has yet to fully uncover her true identity.
Ree has spent her last innumerable seasons on the move—orbiting, in some sense, the lands of her only friend in this world, Aadet, who has become intricately involved in the new post-revolution politics of his people. Swinging back from the forests surrounding Solaike, Ree falls in with another wandering band, some Korenat refugees searching for their own protection on a trade route besieged with the fallout of the recent uprising. The Korenat’s plight might not have stricken Ree so deeply, but they are accompanied by their own archon, who seems to know much more about Ree’s own origins than she ever dared to hope.
WARNING: This is a sequel, if you haven’t read Cold Forged Flame yet, do not read this review or Lightning In The Blood. Cold Forged Flame is so much about discovery you will want to go in blind and with Lightning In The Blood a lot will be lost if you do not have the build-up of the first story.
You have read it now? You sure? Good we may proceed…
The joy of the first volume was so much in the nature of discovery. As such there exists a risk with a sequel: that it will just be disappointing, you have now unwrapped the present but playing with it you discover it is just brightly coloured plastic. However, this is not the case with Marie Brennan.
What she is doing is a fascinating exercise in how to do great world-building from the ground up. She started with one person alone in one place. This novella balances learning more about Ree, the complex political situation and the nature of the world in which they inhabit. It could seem like a cheap trick to give the character amnesia so we learn with them but this is done for a great purpose and with such skill it feels worthwhile. Lightning In The Blood also doesn’t feel so much like a sequel but part two of the same novel. In fact I would not be surprised if a single collected edition was the end plan for this sequence.
As I mentioned the world building is astonishing. Every few pages I find it is turning all my assumptions upside down. Take, for example, the ritual calendar Somehow: a beautiful idea of thirteen numbers and twenty names, cycling though them at different rates, like to different drumbeats. Something so different and fascinating- it’s the world being built in such a different status when we are so used to the Babylonian style of calendar system that it seems so natural. A simple way of giving a complete world.
However, the heart of the story, for me, is Ree’s journey. She is a great PoV character, angry and sarcastic but justified and relatable. As we learn with her about her past we also get to see her struggling with accepting who she is. For there are many aspects to her ancestry and she must balance who she was in her past life with who she is now. Just as she looks at a coin and sees the two faces representing creation and destruction, she must accept that she is both and neither. She belongs everywhere and nowhere at once.
One of the aspects I find most enjoyable about this is Brennan’s use of language. Whilst her Lady Trent stories are very much intentionally using a quiet genteel style, this keeps the harsh rough language I adored so much for the first volume but then further adds in a real sense of awe and the epic beautiful. What’s more, everything feels like it is dripped in further meaning and that there are hidden aspects waiting to be explored. Even the title is a multi-layered piece. It can at once refer to a literal sensation, Ree’s coming to terms with herself, that Blood that binds the world together and more besides. For a fan of verbal gymnastics and deeper reading like myself it is an absolute delight.
If there was an aspect that was less interesting, for me it would be the complex political alliances and protocol. I found these harder to follow and less relatable than many other parts of the world Brennan has constructed. But this is a smaller element I personally didn’t connect with among so many other treasures to be uncovered.
Lightning In The Blood is a delightful and astounding piece of world-building with character at the centre. It’s full of more ideas than many people squeeze into novels and a greater sense of the epic than many manage to convey in entire book cycles. Well worth checking out all the parts in turn.
Reviewer: Kris Vyas-Myall