Book One of Rebel Angels
By Gillian Philip
Available now from Tor (Macmillan)
I'll admit: I almost didn't read FIREBRAND because Gillian Philip spells the word Sithe instead of Sidhe. I feared she might be a cupcake. I am so happy I ignored that twinge of fear and chose to read FIREBRAND anyway.
The blurb says that FIREBRAND is an urban fantasy, but it's not. It's part historical fantasy and part high fantasy, all portal fantasy. Perhaps there is something to that discussion last year that portal fantasy is unpopular. But FIREBRAND doesn't follow the typical portal fantasy model. Seth MacGregor and his brother Conal are Sithe, living in their own world, and cross the portal into our world. (For the value of "our world" meaning "historical Scotland.") Then they cross back into their own world . . . and it certainly doesn't live up to the criticism that portal fantasy is unpopular because the real world isn't at stake. Both worlds are at stake, as are the lives of Seth, his brother, and basically everyone in the novel.
Kate NicNiven is the queen of the Sithe, by her people's consent. The MacGregors are her most powerful opponents, but she's canny about keeping control and preventing rebellion. This, despite the fact that she want to destroy the Veil the separates the world of the Sithe from the humans and keeps both sides safe.
Philip's worldbuilding is top notch. The Sithe are not human. They have an alien way of thinking, as well as different culture and politics. She carefully builds her fantasy land and then she brings Scotland into the mix. Her Scotland seems no less fully realized.
But what really sells FIREBRAND is Seth himself. He's not only the younger son, but also a bastard. Yet he loves his brother and has many dear friends, no matter that he took awhile to develop any connections. He spent his youngest years neglected, but he loves deeply and is loved in return. He's fiercely loyal, and he may not be the most moral person around, but he knows when to make a stand for what's right.
Right now, I hate everyone in the UK, because they already have books two and three in the Rebel Angels series. Meanwhile, all of us in the US are stuck waiting for more. But based on the reviews, the wait will be worth it.