Blaze Halfbreed has been sent on a mission to retrieve the Cirkasian Castlemaid from Gortham Spit, a barely hospital strip of sand where only the lowest of the low and the most desperate congregate. There she discovers the filthy stench of evil dunmagic and realises a great evil has returned to threaten the whole of the Isles of Glory.
Blaze Halfbreed is citizenless in an island archipelago where citizenship means everything and there are strict rules on island-interbreeding, leading her to be an unwanted outcast. Gorthan Spit, the desolate land of criminals and unwanteds, is the only place she can legally stay longer than three days. It is also the place where she has tracked a princess from another island who is to play a key role in the Keeper’s plans on taking control of the Isles of Glory. Blaze is ‘Aware’ – she can see sylmagic and dunmagic, and it doesn’t affect her. The Keepers find her useful, and have promised her citizenship after twenty years of service. But if she fails to find the Castlemaid, she won’t get her citizenship. Meanwhile, she befriends a Cirkasian with a secret past who claims she knows where the Castlemaid is – only this beautiful ‘Flame’ is attacked by a powerful dunmagicker. It’s up to Blaze to save the day, multiple times, as she uncovers Keeper secrets, Gorthan Spit secrets, Castlemaid secrets, and secrets about sylmagic and dunmagic that threaten to take over her world.
Blaze Halfbred: tall, swordfighter, sassy, fierce, and totally and completely magnificent. She’s a survivor. Not many abandoned halfbreeds make it in a world harsh to the citizenless. Blaze is brave, resourceful, smart, and caring. She’s got loyalty coming out the wazoo for those she loves, and she’ll do anything to save them. Her primary motivation is to earn enough money to live in peace and earn a citizenship for the same reason, and for this she is a sort of bounty hunter for the Keeper sylvs, although she’s also a mercenary who will do what it takes to earn some coin. Although she develops strong bonds with several men in this book, it’s her sudden and very sisterly love for Flame that I adore. Blaze is ‘Aware’ – she can see magic as it’s used, which other magickers and normal folk can’t. Magic doesn’t affect her so she’s the perfect one to send off to assassinate an evil dunmagicker. Her Awareness makes her useful to the sylvs of Keeper island, and she depends on them for work and her eventual citizenship.
Flame is a sylv from Cirkasecastle and as the incredibly beautiful one of the story she’s also somewhat of a damsel in need of rescuing. She’s also brave and loyal and fierce and once she makes a decision she has no time to regret it. She returns Blaze’s love fiercely and she isn’t afraid to step back into a lair of horror she barely escaped the first time just to try to save her friends.
Tor Ryder is a fellow Aware and although he can fight, he’s a man of religion and I wouldn’t exactly call him a warrior like Blaze. He’s gentle and calm and has deep intelligence, and he’s on Gortham Spit babysitting a runaway royal. He and Blaze find a past in common and eventually fall in love although Blaze believes they can’t be together because of her halfbreed status and his religion.
I adore this book so much. Although much of it takes place on Gorthan Spit, we get some flashbacks in Blaze’s life. The framing of the novel is that when Blaze is an elderly woman, all magic and the harsh citizenship laws have vanished from the Glory Isles and they are discovered by another race who are studying them, much like in Wuthering Heights Nathan turns up at the house only to be told this incredible story about its previous inhabitants. So Blaze’s story is essential a compilation of a bunch of interviews given to help this new race study them. I think the worldbuilding is phenomenal, I love the characters, I love that even the supposedly ‘good’ sylvs have shades of grey in them because they use their magic to confuddle normal folk. Love how every character has their own motivation and backstory which really enriches the narrative and makes the world so much more believable.
The pacing is good with this book. Because it’s such an original adult fantasy, there’s a lot of worldbuilding and culture and backstory to tell. I feel like this was always put in at the appropriate moments. While it’s not a break-neck pace, it is steady. Sometimes it slows right down, for example when Blaze has been taken prisoner or is being kept alone for some time. I think the slower pace works well then because you start to feel her helplessness and lonliness.
This is one of my absolute favourite fantasy books of all time. I literally cannot think of a single thing I don’t like about it. I give it ALL THE STARS. But warning - it is an adult book and it does cover subject matters such as rape and forced sterilisation.
The Aware (The Isles of Glory)Actually, I did think of one thing. For some reason Larke decided to republish this with another publishing company instead of self-publishing, and the cover of the new version is AWFUL. DON’T LET THE COVER FOOL YOU THIS IS AN AMAZING ORIGINAL INCREDIBLE PIECE OF ADULT FANTASY.