Flamebringer is the richly imagined, lushly magical conclusion to the Heartstone trilogy, in which we join Aliza and Alistair almost immediately after the events in Dragonshadow. All of the world and character building take place in the first two novels, so potential readers will definitely want to begin with Heartstone.
Having been warned of a coming war greater than any the world has ever seen, our intrepid heroes are flying through a blizzard in the hopes of catching the villain Wydrick and keeping him from doing even greater damage to the nation of Arle. They know he is now a ghastradi and in league with the powerful, deadly and human hating Tekari. They need whatever information he has if they are to prevent their kingdom from being destroyed.
Their dragon mount Akarra is blown off course by the powerful winds of the storm and rather than catching their foe, Aliza and Alistair find themselves forced to land in the Rushless Wood. The trees here are alive and hostile, allowing no one to pass who is not of the Mauntells. After a bit of a scuffle with those esteemed folk the pair are offered guest-right and welcomed to stay for the night in a village deep in the woods. Their visit is cut short, however, when Joanna arrives to warn the Mauntells that the Daireds have powerful enemies and sheltering them for even one night is dangerous.
Forced to flee, Aliza, Akarra and Alistair head to the Dragonsmoor Mountains to plead for the Vehrashi to ally with Arle in the coming battle. While there they learn terrible truths about Alistair’s past, an added burden they don’t need given all they have suffered in their recent struggles. Weary and battleworn, they head to the capital and discover that the guilds have persuaded the king to call a convocation. Ambassadors from the Garhad Islands and the Southern Principalities are eager to be joined by the Elsian delegation and hope for a trade agreement. Alistair, Aliza and Akarra fear the Silent King of Els might be in league with the Tekari and ghastradi and that this is no peaceful discussion of commerce but a trap meant to put an end to Arle.
While Heartstone and Dragonshadow were driven by the relationship between Aliza and Alistair, Flamebringer is a more traditional epic fantasy, driven by political intrigue, powerful magic, and endless warfare. Aliza and Alistair are still very much in love but almost all their time together is given to working out how to deal with the threat of the ghastradi and Wydrick’s betrayal, or actions that will (hopefully) prevent the possible disaster presented by those dangers. The positive is that the issue of whether Aliza can be a true partner in her husband’s work as a dragon rider is laid to rest. She proved her mettle throughout the last book and in this story both he and Akarra respect the skills she brings to the table. It’s a good thing they’ve come to recognize her value since her unique insights as a nakla and her knowledge of herb lore prove to be immeasurable assets in the final confrontation.
Our last adventure with these two saw them on the road, meeting (and of course fighting) new people. This book gives us a chance to catch up with old acquaintances like dragonriders Anjey and Cedric Brysney, and Julienna Daired as well as Aliza’s extended family and her friends at Merybourne Manor. Fans of the hobgoblins of the first book will be glad to know they make small but significant appearances in this one.
Like most epic fantasy books, this story takes place in a world based upon medieval England complete with chainmail, armor and swords. While the original novel may have been based upon the romance of Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, there is no sense of the elegant manners of the Regency era; the series has left any vestiges of that tale far behind. Here we will see the deaths of some beloved characters and watch others walk a different path than they did in that beloved classic.
Because this is the conclusion to the saga, the author wraps up the mysteries surrounding the Els and the heartstones. She does a nice job of explaining this aspect of the world and bringing the overarching narrative to its conclusion.
I think fans of fantasy romance or epic fantasy will find the Heartstone series as a whole thoroughly enjoyable, though I would reiterate that it is important to read the series in order since the stories are sequential in nature. I’m sure fans of the series will find Flamebringer deeply satisfying.