I love a good fantasy, and as my tastes have grown more particular, the genre pleases me less and less. It's rare to come across an author whose world feels so alive time and again, yet Zoë Marriott has managed to engage me three times now, with DAUGHTER OF THE FLAME, its recently-released companion novel FROSTFIRE (reviewed here), and last year's stand-alone SHADOWS ON THE MOON (reviewed here). All of her future titles sound amazing as well, and I'm so eager to have more to look forward to from this amazing talent.
Part of why I love Marriott's books so much likely comes from the fact that we seem to share many common interests. Her books all have an Asian-flare running through them, she creates her own unique mythology, she threads fairy tales into some of her novels, and, above all, her books are all full of fantasy and wonder. What's not to love? She knows all of my weaknesses, further endearing her works to my heart.
The world-building in DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES was spectacular. When reading the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, I noticed that Marriott wrote, "Thanks are owed to: Diana Wynne Jones for writing The Tough Guide to Fantasyland because it made me want to find out what went on in fantasy nunneries--before they got ransacked--and how fantasy religions really worked, and got me angry about fantasy colour-coding." I'm sorry, but if you are a fantastic writer and you take the time to point out a book that helped you in your incredible world-building, as an aspiring fantasy writer, I am going to move heaven and earth to get my hands on a copy of the book that inspired you and add it to my own collection. The book is a dictionary of fantasy, and I'm looking forward to giving it an in-depth look as time permits.
When opening the book for the first time, readers are greeted with a note for why Marriott wrote DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES, where she states, "I've always had a sneaking fondness for those classic fantasies about the lost heir returning to reclaim his throne. But it bothered me that the royal heir was nearly always a golden-haired, blue-eyed boy, who only needed to pick up his sword to get people to follow him. So I decided to write about a mixed-race lost princess, and see what she would do with her sword...especially if her people weren't sure they wanted to follow her after all." Last year, I went to the Diversity in YA Tour in NYC at Books of Wonder, where it was mentioned that no one could think of a main character in a fantasy novel where s/he wasn't a person of color. One of the greatest things about Zira is that she's of mixed race. Not only that, she suffered something catastrophic as a child that marred her. To me, her imperfections only make her more lovable, because she's so strong. In this way, she reminds me of Prince Zuko from AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, who is by far my favorite character in that series.
I also have a fond spot for fantasies about reclaiming the throne, and I loved seeing a girl in this classic storyline. Zira kicks serious butt. She's so strong, and willing to do anything to save her people. Literally anything. This is one girl who can swallow her pride for the greater good. She overcomes so much in order to meet her tyrannical uncle in the ultimate showdown for the throne, and it really shows. Never one to make things easy on her characters, Marriott throws many obstacles in the way on the journey to the end, and deals with common situations in unexpected ways. There's a scene that seriously alters a character's future in a way that feels very natural, even though other authors would take an easy, magical way out of the predicament. This just makes me respect Marriott even more. Marriott even has a way of pulling at your heartstrings when getting into the backstory of her villain. He isn't just a cookie-cutter bad guy. He has a story.
I seriously love all of the layers working together to create the story woven through the pages of DAUGHTER OF THE FLAME and don't really know how to properly review it other than to say: If you like high fantasy, you want to read this. ASAP! The book has gone out of print in the US, though you may be able to find a used copy. It's also possible that Candlewick Press will re-release the title when they bring FROSTFIRE State-side in 2013. The easiest, fastest (and likely cheapest) way to obtain a copy is through Book Depository (with free shipping!).