REVIEW: The Fireborn Blade by Charlotte Bond

Novellas like The Fireborn Blade by Charlotte Bond are exactly the reason I love shorter form fiction. Engaging, fast-paced, inventive, and just a damned-fun few hours to spend engrossed in a story, The Fireborn Blade could have been the intro or extro story for an anthology, but is certainly strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

In The Fireborn Blade Maddileh is one of the very few women to become a knight, and she’s had it all wrenched away from her by reacting to the cruelty of a man. As a favoured knight of the king due to her gallantry, she has been given one chance to re-attain her station and honour. The what of it is up to her, but it needs to be epic. Taking on the White Lady dragon deep in its lair to claim back the fabled fireborn blade for her king is about as epic and dangerous as it gets. However, the recurring nightmare where she burns does not bode well for the success of her mission.

The story is full of betrayals and bait-and-switches, long-games, shady characters, and magic. And the magic I think is one of the coolest things about the book–and I think the last time I said that was when I read Beyond Redemption. Dragons influence the world around them while they sleep and dream, with everything from magic bubbles which burst into the tunnel of their lairs to make questing knights and treasure seekers forget the reason they are there, to the ghosts of the dragon-slain who haunt the tunnels of the dragon’s demesnes and, should they touch you, torture you with nightmares for years to come, to dead dragons expelling a magic burst of leeches which devour the knight who killed them. Mages study the dragons and all they do, and the snippets from the books which detail the mages scientific approach to documenting the dragons people (usually knights) encounter and survive (usually just, if at all) are one of my favourite parts of this story. I love, love, love the way these help set the scene and signpost a few things to come, document the wildly varied nature of the dragons and the danger they and their lairs presented, almost as much as I love the fun of the interview-record-style way the chapters delve into some of the less honourable knights and their retellings of their exploits.

The story also delves into male-dominated industries and the hardships women face gaining success there, which is smoothly done for the reader through the use of a European-style medieval setting. While this theme is a foundational part of the novel throughout, the main focus is on Maddileh getting some form of revenge by regaining her station through a heroic act–the loss of which she realises is on her for not having the restraint to not deck her former lover (right in front of the king) for his emotional cruelty to her. From a grimdark fan perspective, there is a lot to love when reading the records of the knights who fought dragons, and the explorations into the secondary characters’ reasons for being, but the main character is generally a slightly flawed, but over-archingly good character trying to regain her good standing by doing something very dangerous.

The Fireborn Blade by Charlotte Bond is a brilliant novella that I absolutely loved reading. Make sure you grab yourself a copy, pour yourself a glass of something, and lose yourself in one of the best dragon dark fantasies I’ve read in ages.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.