Sarah Micklem,
(Scribner, 2004)

As a child, when she lived with the Dame in her keep, Firethorn's name was Luck. But after the Dame's death, when her nephew inherited the keep, Luck fled to the forest where she lived wild for a year and gained her new name. Returning to the village below the keep, Firethorn finds herself wanting the knight Galan. What's more, Galan wants her, and wants her to leave with him. Unfortunately, Galan is bound for war, but manages to convince his lord to allow Firethorn to accompany him. In the middle of a war camp, Firethorn learns more about the world and her place in it than in all her life before.

Firethorn, the first book of a trilogy of the same name, highlights the differences between peasantry and nobility. No matter how fond Galan might be of Firethorn, she'll never be more to him than his "sheath" -- a crude term for a kept peasant-woman (a kept noblewoman is a "concubine"). This sort of crudity abounds in the novel, with both the peasantry and nobility alike using the same rather raw language -- demonstrating that whatever the perceived differences between them, they're really the same at heart.

High fantasy can often feel as though it is lost in the mists of the past. Firethorn's crude language, however, gives it an earthy immediacy but also can make it difficult reading in this age of political correctness. This is an engrossing, powerful story, but not a comfortable one.

by Laurie Thayer
1 October 2005

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