Author: McKenzie Austin
A witch, a demon, and a priest walk into a tavern …
Wait, no. A war.
Yeah. It’s definitely a war.
In Brigovia, the cobblestones run warm with the blood of humans, demons, and enchanters alike. And with each body that falls, one name is whispered: Greenbriar.
It’s all particularly vexing for Esven Greenbriar, since she’s never killed anyone in her entire life. But when humans drag her mother, the fabled witch of Brigovia, from their isolated home and execute her by fire, all of Esven’s compassion for mankind goes up in smoke.
Now, tempted by an alluring fire demon with a proposition to destroy humanity, the young witch must choose between the revenge she craves and her late mother’s wish for peace. With a reticent priest and a sarcastic cat among her painfully short list of friends, she just might be able to stifle her anger and spare the world.
Or, you know, burn it all to ash.
Rating: Character-focused with vivid characters
One of the things that stood out to me in Followed by Fire is that it is really driven by the characters. They all had personality, I really liked Esven, and she isn’t stupid just for the sake of moving the plot along. She does make mistakes, and sometimes she is stupid (though in general I think she’s intelligent), but it’s in line with how she is. Her reactions to and responses to many things are a bit odd, but it all made sense. She has a personality of her own, and she’s had a very odd life growing up in seclusion with a rather odd mother, and only occasionally interacting with other people, always in disguise. And now, she’s in her early twenties. Not a bad life or a bad mother, but an odd one.
So the combination of her naivety, and her desire to make something great of herself (since she doesn’t know much of her kind-hearted confident-in-the-good-in-the-world mother’s past, but she knows she was a famous and a very great witch), and her fear that makes her go into hiding, just hanging on, and her insecurities about her relationship to her mother – it forms the picture of a person. She’s lived a very sheltered life up until her mother’s death, and she sometimes seems a lot younger than she is. Some of her impulses are pretty contradictory and at odds with each other. I really liked Esven, and her responses to things, her ways of thinking; how she handles her trauma, her bold assertive solutions, and questions, and her struggle to stay committed to compassion. Sometimes she’s swept along by what someone else drags her into, and sometimes she makes her own startling choices no one but herself could conceive or follow through, in the defiance of everyone else’s advice – and it’s always Esven.
I also liked Balvo – eventually – and enjoyed watching the dynamic between them develop, though there were times I hated Balvo so much for trying to use Esven in what’s really a cruel way, but also I felt sorry for him, since he’s got a very rough, heart-breaking past, too. Balvo is the fire demon on a quest of his own to free his kind, and he takes Esven to see lots of atrocities that human beings commit against each other, in attempt to persuade her that humanity might as well burn – something she half-feels already because of what happened to her mother – and over and over again, in the midst of atrocities that do sorely tempt her urge for revenge, she sees human beings who aren’t evil. Who have hearts, and kindness. Maybe not the majority. Maybe one who’ve suffered a lot, too. But they’re there. She’s torn, and conflicted, and she has real responses, and I loved her responses, and the match between her impulsiveness and her thoughtfulness.
Something that I’m having some time deciding how I feel about, however, are the Angel and Demon Lords, the Twin Gods. The Guild of Divinity – responsible for Esven’s mother’s death – definitely feels to me like an analogue to the Medieval Inquisition. And the situation between the Twin Gods – how much of it is supposed to be a commentary on certain Christian beliefs or if not beliefs, imagery, and how much of it is just how this fantasy world came out? (And if this is the case, what is the hint when the Demon Lord’s people – demons – are supposed to be analytical and logical, using their minds, when the Angel Lord’s people are supposed to be compassionate and emotional, using their hearts? When much Medieval – and modern – Christian teaching “authorities” exalt the use of the mind and intellect over following one’s heart and emotions, even if they’d really prefer you didn’t exercise critical thought except in the few domains the “authorities” encourage it?)
I enjoyed how Esven’s witch-powers involve drawing on the natural powers around her. I liked her relationship to her irritating but loyal cat familiar, and her relationship to the forest. She’s part of nature and it’s friend, and I just enjoyed how that was done.
Followed By Fire is a fun, enjoyable read with an intriguing world. What I enjoyed most of all was the characters, how they all seem to have real personalities, and their personalities drive the story. They do what they would do, instead of their characters being formed by the plot so that they can do what is necessary to take that in a predetermined direction. Instead, they’re fun and vivid and active – or not – as they choose to be. And there’s a whole lot of complicated back story that Esven hasn’t had the chance to be aware of.
PS. Read the preview. You get to see Esven’s mother and her beliefs there. I can’t figure out how to write about them or my feelings right now, but it is interesting! This book had a preview that caught my attention pretty fast.