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Firethorn by Sarah Micklem
Paperback $14.00
Jun 28, 2005 | ISBN 9780553383409

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  • Jun 28, 2005 | ISBN 9780553383409

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  • Apr 28, 2009 | ISBN 9780553588019

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Product Details


“A sweeping adventure saga as mystical as it is raw…this hypnotic tale of passion and survival will resonate with sophisticated readers of both sexes.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A great piece of gritty, feminist fiction, distinguished by a heroine whose vulnerabilities and fresh voice as narrator make her easy to love.” —Booklist, starred review

“Gritty, sinewy, exceptionally well researched, and highly impressive.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Engrossing, suspenseful and uncompromising, this is a novel that sets a great story into motion, leaving readers eager for the next chapter.…Its story is so complex and compelling that it will seduce even reluctant readers.”—SciFi Weekly, A- pick

“ ‘Expect the unexpected’ may sound like a stale cliché, but applied to the future volumes of this trilogy, and the future career of Sarah Micklem, it becomes both a lure and a promise.”—Locus, New & Notable Book

“A fully realized world, full of grit and beauty, hungers of every kind, and gods who are either remote or meddlesome. She takes the time to let relationships develop and events unfold, giving us the sense of having lived and loved our way through Firethorn’s world. Micklem makes a worthy bid to be ranked with Robin Hobb, Mary Renault, and George R. R. Martin as a brilliant creator of realistic, character-centered fantasy. My only complaint is that the second book isn’t out yet.”—Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game

“This is a stark and splendid novel. But the most astonishing thing about it is the suppleness of the style–almost no one writes a first novel this graceful. I look forward to whatever she does next.”—Robin McKinley, author of Sunshine

Author Q&A

Q&A Between K. J. Bishop and Sarah Micklem

K. J. Bishop: Firethorn is full of remarkable realistic detail, not only in the descriptions of the world but also in action scenes. There’s one battle, in particular, that made me feel I was watching a movie. From my own admittedly limited experience, physical fights of all kinds are hard to write; the choreography’s a challenge, if you’ve made the stylistic decision to describe the goings on in detail. How did you go about writing the action scenes in Firethorn?

Sarah Micklem: First of all, I wrote myself into a corner. My narrator is a spectator, not a participant. She’s up on a hill watching the action. It’s chaos down there and she can’t tell what’s going on. Besides that, her lover, Galan, has to fight on foot when everyone else is on horseback, for reasons I won’t go into here. I had no idea how he could survive the fight, but I knew he must. Then there was my ignorance: I’ve never studied martial arts or been in combat or a fight.

So I bought a lot of books on medieval and renaissance fighting, and sword-fighting in general, and worked my way through them. I read first-person accounts of battle in oral histories and novels, trying to get at the experience of being in combat. After I figured out the choreography, I found it hard to describe all those nearly simultaneous actions without pages of blow-by-blow description that I wrote and then cut. Movies have it all over fiction in that regard. On the other hand, in a book you can depict different states of consciousness more easily than on film. In the end I resorted to magic (no more about that, it’s a spoiler). I wrote my way out of the corner, but it took months, a whole summer in fact.

KJB: The divining compass in Firethorn, with the twelve gods and their avatars, is fascinating and quite unusual. Some of the names of the gods and avatars sound like personal entities–Queen of the Dead, Hunter, Sailor–while others seem elemental or abstract, such as Plenty, Foresight, and Iron. Can you say something about how you developed this system?

SM: I wanted to set the book within a moral universe that wasn’t based on a dualism. As in Greek mythology, the gods do not line up on an axis of good and evil. They form a wheel, the circle of the divining compass, and between them all they divide and rule the cosmos. But the divisions aren’t neat and simple. There are overlaps, conflicts, and shifting alliances.

The people of Firethorn’s society certainly have ideas about proper and improper, good and bad behavior. Bad behavior is dangerous, not because it is sinful and you’ll go to hell, but because you might offend and anger a god, not to mention other people, living and dead. Sometimes you can’t please one god without offending another–tough luck.

It intrigued me that in some religions a god has different manifestations or avatars, thereby offering different paths for human understanding; in Christianity there is father, son, and holy ghost. I decided each god would be a trinity of male, female, and disembodied (or elemental) avatars. Twelve seemed a good number of gods. So I had twelve gods times three avatars–36 avatars in all–way too many to be convenient for fiction. This is a cautionary tale for those of you inventing your own cosmos.

I finished the divining compass after I finished Firethorn. Some of the avatars were nameless until then. They weren’t involved in the story so I hadn’t given them much thought. I’m working on the sequel now, and I am still finding out about the gods. Firethorn is a believer, and I try to think like her. Everything she looks at is in the domain of one god or another; anything can be a sign.

The Booklist review of Firethorn calls it “Feminist fiction.” Do you agree? If so, given that “feminism” is really an umbrella term for various different feminisms, how would you describe the feminism of Firethorn?

SM: I’m happy that Firethorn is considered feminist fiction. I’m not up on various kinds of feminism, so I don’t know what label I’d apply to the book. Science fiction and fantasy can be utopian, interested in what has never existed; I admire that about the genre(s), but I looked in the other direction. The more research I did, the more I was led to imagine my way into a society of a sort that has been all too common. It’s a patriarchy in which the role of the warrior is exalted, and it has a rigid caste system maintained by violence and the threat of violence.

Firethorn is a woman among soldiers, a camp follower. She’s at the bottom of the heap, being female and low caste. So how does she resist the notion that she’s inferior? How does she cope with violence directed against her? How does she get what she wants, or take what she can get? I guess the feminism of the book is directed toward asking those sorts of questions and attempting an answer.

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