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Book: “Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame” by Meg Long
Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, January 2024
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: After a mission gone awry two years ago, Remy Castell has been desperately searching across worlds to find the friend she failed to save—the friend who changed her life by helping her overcome the brainwashing she was subjected to as a genetically engineered corporate agent.
Since then, she’s been chasing the only lead she has: fellow genopath Kiran Lore, the same secretive ex-squadmate who left her for dead when she compromised that mission. She nearly caught up to him on Tundar before joining the infamous sled race alongside outcast Sena and her wolf companion Iska. Now, all three of them have tracked Kiran back to Maraas, the jungle planet where Remy lost everything. But nothing on Maraas is how it was two years ago. Syndicates and scavvers alike are now trying to overthrow a megalomaniac corpo director, which Remy wants nothing to do with; fighting against corpos is as useless as trying to stay dry in the middle of the giant hellstorm that encircles the planet. But the storm—and the rebellion—are growing stronger by the minute.
When Remy finds Kiran, he doesn’t run away like she expects. Instead, he offers her a deal: help with the revolution and he’ll reunite her with her friend. But can she really trust the boy who betrayed her once before? With the entire planet on the edge of all-out war, Remy will have to decide just how far she’s willing to go to save one girl before the impending storm drowns them all.
Previously Reviewed: “Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves”
Review: I really liked “Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves” when I read it last January. Not only is January the perfect time to hole up inside next to a fire and read about someone else suffering the elements, but who can say no to a book that has a central relationship between a girl and her half-feral wolf? No one, that’s who. That book also introduced us to Remy, a side character who we learn is on the run from the corporation that made her. So I was thrilled when I saw that the author was releasing a companion novel that would focus on Remy’s story.
Remy has been on the run for two years after her ex-squadmate betrayed her and cost her everything she held dear. While running from the corporation that created her, she’s traced her away across the universe to hunt down the man who destroyed the fragile sense of self she had been building. Now, with her friend Sena and Sena’s wolf companion Iska alongside, Remy returns to the planet where it all began. But what she finds is a world transformed from the one she left behind. Still, in the midst of ongoing political and social strife, Remy is hopeful she can finally put her past to rest.
I won’t beat around the bush: I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as the first. Which was really too bad. But I can still see the bones of a good book and the strength of the writing that drew me to the first novel. The author is clearly skilled at creating interesting, alternative world environments, complete with their own weather systems, creatures, and societies. This one was just as interesting as the first. Whereas before we explored a brutal tundra world, here we dive into the sticky, hot, humidity of a jungle planet. Even more interesting, the planet is plagued by a massive storm system that circumnavigates the entire world every two weeks or so. This creates a very interesting culture and society where everything in the city is under a constant state of destruction and repair. We also see how this mindset influences who lives where (more protected areas vs less) and what materials they have access to for their construction, affecting how durable the buildings are in any certain community. This was all super interesting, and I really enjoyed everything we got with regards to the world building.
Further, I liked the politics and mystery at the heart of the story with regards to these dynamics. When we get to the motivations of the bad actors, it was all very believable and relatable, touching on some important themes and commentary about class and the environment in our own world. And, while I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to read “Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves” before you read this one, having read that one, I appreciated how the author further fleshed out the role of local syndicates and the interesting balance they strike between their own world’s population and the power of the corporations that essentially rule the universe.
But it all broke down for me with the main character and the love interest. I don’t really think it’s a spoiler to say that said ex-squadmate who “betrayed” her probably has more going on. But if you don’t want more details, suffice it to say that I found Remy’s understanding of this character to be so poor as to be almost laughable. For more details, continue reading!
Basically, this just comes down to a case of telling and not showing. From the beginning, Remy goes on repeated internal rants about her ex-squadmate who was controlling, always putting himself forward and making her look bad on their missions. The problem comes when we are shown flashbacks that make it painfully obvious what is going. Again and again, all we see is a man who clearly loves Remy and is protecting her in every way he can. In one case, he directly takes the blame for something Remy does and ends up in a torture session over it. And somehow…Remy not only doesn’t pick up on these super obvious clues, but spends large chunks of the book telling the reader how bad of a guy Kiran is. And that’s just not a recipe for success. I get having an unreliable narrator. But you have to have a reason for why they’re misleading the reader. And if that reason turns out to be “the protagonist is kind of a dunderhead and oblivious to the point of disbelief” that’s not good look for the protagonist or is incredibly frustrating for the reader.
Unfortunately, some of this obliviousness on Remy’s part showed up in many different ways. Not only is she repeatedly unable to understand how her actions impact others, but she also misreads many other characters’ motivations. It was tough to read, as I thought that Remy’s portrayal in the first book was so solid and interesting. But here, she immediately started to fall into some predictable YA female protagonist stereotypes. And this wasn’t helped by having Sena hanging around through a lot of it, reminding readers of just how likable a main character she was in her book.
Overall, this was kind of a mixed bag for me. My experience of this book really lived and died by my reaction to Remy as a main character. The world-building, writing, and themes were still incredibly strong. I just was too frustrated by Remy through much of it to truly enjoy my read. If you were a fan of the first book, however, I still might recommend a read through here. Your tastes may vary for a main character, and the author still had a lot of good story and commentary to offer with this book.
Rating 7: Excellent world-building and important themes regarding environmentalism and class were undermined by a rather frustrating main character.
“Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame” can be found on this Goodreads list: Upcoming 2023 SFF Books With Female Leads or Co-Leads