The Labyrinth of Flame, by Courtney Schafer

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Publication date – December 1, 2015

Summary: Dev’s never been a man afraid of a challenge. Not only has he kept his vow to his dead mentor, rescuing a child in the face of impossible odds, but he’s freed his mage friend Kiran from both the sadistic master who seeks to enslave him and the foreign Council that wants to kill him.

But Kiran’s master Ruslan is planning a brutal revenge, one that will raze an entire country to blood and ashes. Kiran is the key to stopping Ruslan; yet Kiran is dying by inches, victim of the Alathian Council’s attempt to chain him. Worse yet, Dev and Kiran have drawn the attention of demons from the darkest of ancient legends. Demons whose power Dev knows is all too real, and that he has every reason to fear.

A fear that grows, as he and Kiran struggle to outmaneuver Ruslan and uncover the secrets locked in Kiran’s forgotten childhood. For the demons are playing their own deadly game – and the price of survival may be too terrible to bear.

Review: If you’ve followed my reviews or see me around on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably heard me rave about the two previous books in the Shattered Sigil series, The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City. I adored them. So very much. They inspired dozens of conversations with friends, speculation about how the series would end, and yes, plenty of discussions about shipping certain characters, too (you know the ones I’m talking about). It got me excited in the way few other series have managed to do in recent years, and I had amazingly high hopes for The Labyrinth of Flame.

And despite how high my hopes were, Schafer still managed to surpass them.

The book starts shortly after where The Tainted City left off, with Dev and Kiran making their way to Prosul Akheba, trying to keep a low profile so that neither Ruslan nor demons find them. Kiran is still missing the memories burned away by Ruslan, is reliant on a dwindling supply of a drug, and must face the fact that some part of him is undeniably connected to the demons that dog their footsteps. As if dodging Ruslan and demons wasn’t enough, there’s a tribe of Shaikar-worshippers chasing them, and the solution to all of their problems might be buried in memories Kiran didn’t even suspect he held.

It’s a layered plot of chaos and desperation, and pretty much as of about 1/3 of the way through, the pace doesn’t let up for a second. “One more chapter” syndrome hits hard. There are new reveals and new dangers around every turn, the plot gets even more full of twists and complications, and yet it never once feels like things are over the top, or like the author is trying to one-up anything previously done. The story all flows naturally, it all makes sense, and it isn’t filled with big impressive events just for the sake of big impressive events. It’s beautifully done, and I enjoyed just how much I was on the edge of my seat for most of the reading.

It is, however, really difficult to talk about the plot of the book because so much happens, so many things change, that it’s tough to give context without also giving spoilers. I could talk about how Kiran develops his confidence and his power, or how Dev might finally have learned to stop living in a convoluted web of deceit caused by making too many promises to too many people, but to say more than that would risk spoiling some major plot twists, or else remaining pointlessly vague. I often find that some of the best books are the hardest to review; they’re better read than read about.

There are definitely things that I can talk about without introducing too many spoilers. I love, for instance, how Melly got a decent-sized role in The Labyrinth of Flame, where in previous books she got a couple of scenes and largely existed as Dev’s motivation. Here, she finds strength and plays an active part of the story, not content to be a tag-along or to be shunted to the side because of her age. I love the parallels between Kiran and Ruslan, and how they both take the “I’m doing this for your own good” path even as they approach from opposite ends. I love seeing how Ruslan and Lizaveta are more than just generic villains; they always were, even in previous books, but you get to see more of their past here and more of how they think and what influences them, and it’s a wonderful piece of insight into how twisted by grief and power a person can become.

I love the way the book challenges cultural norms all over the place, but particularly I like how it does this with romance and relationships. A presentation of people who don’t typically follow a pattern of only choosing one partner at a time but instead are rather polyamourous (and more fluid in their associated sexuality, at least sometimes, and depending on the person) is wonderful to see in fiction, not because I believe that’s the only proper way to have a healthy relationship, but because it breaks molds and shows that there are more ways to have a healthy relationship than just monogamy. I love to see this stuff explored, and I love that Schafer explored it with respect and compassion.

The same thing can be said for sexuality, in that there’s a surprisingly amount of positive bisexual representation in this book. It’s not something you see that often, to be truthful; usually characters that break sexual molds are almost always gay, and bisexuality doesn’t get brought up that often. But here you not only have a main character who’s perfectly okay with romance and sex with either gender, but multiple main characters who feel that way. And it’s presented as absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. No surprise, no comments of, “I didn’t know you felt that way,” no revelation, nothing. Just acceptance of that’s how some people are, and that’s how some characters themselves are, and what’s so weird about that?

Which brings me to the book’s ending, and I have to say this: the ending of The Labyrinth of Flame is quite possibly the most satisfying ending to a series I’ve ever read. It ties up everything wonderfully, leaves room for the future, and left me with flailing around like an idiot over what happens to the people I ship. Seriously, I don’t think there’s any possible better way for this book and this series to have ended. It closed on a high note, filled with hope and optimism even for difficult tasks ahead, and I’m going to be honest with you all — I actually just went and reread the last chapter again while writing this, because I love the ending that much. It left me with the first book hangover I’ve ever experienced, and despite having just reread the first two books in the series in preparation for reading this one, all I wanted to do when it was over was pick up The Whitefire Crossing and start over, so that I didn’t have to leave the world and characters behind.

Fantasy just doesn’t get much better than this!

You are my anchor stone; abandoning you would mean ripping out the best part of myself.

3 comments on “The Labyrinth of Flame, by Courtney Schafer

  1. Pingback: Top 10 SFF Books of 2015 | Bibliotropic

  2. Pingback: Just Arrived: “The Labyrinth Of Flame” (Book III, Shattered Sigil Series) by Courtney Schafer » Helen Lowe

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Labyrinth of Flame – Hippogriff's Aerie

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