Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I much enjoyed this author's A Natural History of Dragons, which some people found dull. This is not dull. It's a fast-moving novella with plenty of action and conflict.
The plot is straightforward and doesn't break new ground (fetch quest with obstacles to overcome), and it begins with amnesia. Neither of these things are promising on the face of it. Main-character amnesia, in particular, is a cliche start, and is sometimes an inexperienced author's way of dealing with the fact that they don't know who their character is either. In the hands of an experienced author like this one, though (or like Roger Zelazny, who pulled it off wonderfully in Nine Princes in Amber), it can work, and here it did, for me.
Even though none of the individual elements shows us anything new, they're executed so well that I still enjoyed it. In particular, I liked the defiant punk-rock attitude of the main character, which elevated her from an amnesiac blank slate/standard-issue kickass warrior chick to someone I wanted to cheer for. When faced with decisions, she considers carefully and chooses well and bravely, for clear reasons.
Overall, then, proof that you don't have to innovate to craft an enjoyable story, though I would have preferred more innovation, on the whole.
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