In this sequel to the dystopian fantasy-adventure ELEMENTAL, which James Dashner called “fantastic,” the stakes are life-or-death and nothing is as it appears to be.
Thomas and his friends have rescued the Guardians and commandeered the pirates’ ship, but the pirates still hold fast to Roanoke Island. Using his newly discovered element, Thomas hears a radio message calling for refugees to head to Fort Sumter. They sail south, but quickly discover that their elements wane as they leave Roanoke behind. There is something sinister going on in the refugee colony too. From the perilous food-gathering squads, to the constant threat of rat infestation, to dangerous secrets, Thomas and his colonists begin to realize that this promising new world may be even more terrifying than the one they left behind.
The previous book in this series, Elemental, was the first book I reviewed on my blog. It’s kind of ironic to think that Firebrand is the first physical ARC I’ve received from a publisher as well. Coincidence, I think not? Even though I had other books on the go, I couldn’t stop myself from picking up this book and devouring it in one day. I don’t know if it was because of the brevity of the novel or because of my pure excitement, but I flew through it, barely pausing my daily routine to read it all.
The book picks up directly where Elemental left off. I’ll try to reduce the amount of spoilers for the first book as much as possible, because I know not a lot of people have read the first book. After their harrowing adventure on Roanoke Island, the survivors of the pirates’ attack, led by Thomas, have to find a new sanctuary island, away from the rat and plague-infested shores of the mainland. Thomas finds himself in more of a leadership role when they come across a colony of survivors on another island in the Atlantic. They’ve set up camp in an old army fort and have learned to live through subsistence farming. However, they don’t have any elements, or abilities like Thomas and his group has. We slowly pick up more pieces about why it is that only their small colony have these abilities and others don’t. It’s also explored as to why Thomas’ abilities are different than the natural elements of the other survivors.
I enjoyed Thomas exploring some of his own weaknesses in this book. He has to make some personal decisions about whether his group should forget their past and their elements, which have grown weaker away from Roanoke, or if they should get to the bottom of the mystery behind the “solution,” a mysterious antidote to the plague that has ravaged North America (and perhaps the rest of the world). However, events on this new island forces him to make some choices about his future and the future of his friends and family as they encounter mysteries and betrayals, some from within their group, and some coming from the new colony that has taken them in.
While I was disappointed that their abilities (especially Thomas’) didn’t make as much of an appearance in this book since they had forced themselves to hide them from the other settlers, they did manage to learn more about them from the elders of their community. Antony John weaves mystery over mystery in Firebrand, some carried from the first book, other new ones cropping up. I never knew what was going to happen next, which I really enjoyed. The surprises and mysteries made sense after they played out, and it never seemed like aspects of the story were thrown in without previous planning. I also especially enjoyed how the two books’ plots were expertly tied together, even though they often seemed unrelated in the first two thirds of Firebrand.
The author also created fantastically chilling action scenes and the tension near the end of the novel had me flipping pages like a madman. I was on the edge of my seat, trying to decipher the mystery behind the “solution” and the strange settlers on this new island. Although this book isn’t fast-paced besides the ending, I still found myself totally engrossed with the story because of all the suspenseful elements.
While this book isn’t one of my all-time favourites, and had a few aspects that I wish had been given more attention (like the development of Thomas’ abilities from where they left off in the first book, and a little bit more worldbuilding for the plague world), I’m still in love with this story and how it differs from most dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA fiction out there. I can’t wait to see how Antony John continues with this series after yet another gut-wrenching cliffhanger.