Review of Air Awakens (Air Awakens, #1): here.
Soldier… Sorcerer… Savior… Who is Vhalla Yarl?
Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?
Some spoilers ahead.
As suggested by the synopsis, the dramatic events which concluded Air Awakens have left Vhalla in an emotional turmoil, and she’s fighting to regain her balance, while being mercilessly forced into the new reality of her life as the property of the Empire.
As such, it does makes sense that the Vhalla we meet in Fire Falling is flaky and feeling lost. She is a tad too whiny for my liking, though, and this feature is accentuated by a overly dependent attitude towards her friends. There’s a bit too much angst floating about, and I was feeling frustrated with Vhalla on several occasions.
The storyline transports us from the Capital in the South to the jungles of the North, as Vhalla and the troops march across the continent. Riding next to Aldrik, Vhalla is accompanied by her friends from the Tower, Fritz and Larel, whose loyal and unflinching emotional support helps Vhalla deal with her troubles. Now, in Air Awakens, Larel was indeed defined by the way she took care of Vhalla, but considering how Kova keeps Larel around as an important and defining influence for our heroine, I had expected her character to be developed beyond the point of just being a shoulder to cry on. That didn’t happen, though, and I felt bad for Larel more than once, as she suffered some of the backlashes of Vhalla’s moodswings.
Some people detest the hot/cold dynamic, which is a very common technique in a lot of romances. I’m not one of ’em. Don’t get me wrong – in real life, I’m not taking that kind of crap from anyone, but when it comes to fiction, the game is entirely different. As the romance grows between A and V, they encounter several obstacles; he’s the crown prince, she’s a commoner and a convict. In other words: they have all odds against them. The fact that they’ve never voiced their feelings accounts for misunderstanding and second-guessing. Spurred on by these moments of doubt, Vhalla spends time with a member of Baldair’s Golden Guard, Daniel, whom we briefly encountered in Air Awakens.
Daniel is an Easterner too, and though their relationship remains platonic, the two of them are most certainly attracted to one another. After playing Sareem in the previous novel, I would have hoped that Vhalla had learned from her mistakes, but alas! Kova has chosen to incorporate a love triangle, and it makes me want to pull my hair out. I loathe love triangles, unless they serve some sort of function in the development of the plot. It remains to be seen (and I’m currently in the proces of reading the fourth book, Water’s Wrath) if this is the case with Vhalla and Daniel, or if he’s just an easy comfort whenever things get rough between Aldrik and her …
Love triangle aside, there are many great moments in the story, but if I had to pick one, it would be the scene where Vhalla practices magical projection, guided and observed by an endearingly attentive and protective Aldrik. The combination of romantic tension and innocent intimacy made me want to grab the both of them and yell: KISS, DAMN YOU!
Oh, sweet torture! Just the way I like it.
Elise Kova doesn’t use a lot of similies and metaphors, and this relative lack of verbal embellishment tends to result in a rather matter-of-factly narrative voice. Some may find it lackluster, others refreshingly uncluttered. One of the things, I really like about her writing, though, is Kova’s ability to create a tight and coherent plot. And although I don’t always approve Vhalla’s choices, I was always able to understand Vhalla’s motivations for acting and thinking in certain ways. That’s what matters most to me, anyway.
In general, the mood of the story is somber. It becomes painfully clear that Vhalla has a long road ahead of her, and just when you think it can’t get any worse – it does. Lucky for you, the next installment in the series, Earth’s End, is immediately available, which it wasn’t when I finished Fire Falling. The wait was CRUEL. Oh, how I suffered! Although my frustration with the love triangle does influence my over-all appreciation of the novel, I’m willing to overlook minor hiccups when an author is able to make me feel like that.