Warning: this post contains spoilers for Will Wight’s Blackflame, as well as the previous two volumes in the Cradle series: Unsouled, and Soulsmith.
Fantasy has been, in recent years, criticized for being too series-dominant. Few authors write stand-alone fantasy novels, and instead you end up with every time you read a new book you end up embroiled in yet another trilogy, of six book series. I suppose that can be frustrating…but not in this case. After reading Unsouled and Soulsmith, I was glad there was another book to read in the Cradle series.
Although we were given some glimpses into it in the other novels, this iteration particularly highlighted Lindon’s get ahead at any cost mentality. He’s perfectly willing to take shortcuts, cheat, and find work-arounds if it means achieving victory, whatever that looks like. It’s a marked contrast to the direct approach taken by his long-time companion, who prefers to take on challenges with her head – smashing through them, not thinking through them, that is.
This book stumbled a bit, I think, in a story that flowed. Perhaps it was because almost the entire piece was spent with Lindon attempting to complete a series of contrived challenges. Although still well written, and exciting, it felt more contrived, more procedural, than the previous two novels did. This wasn’t helped by most of the novel being spent in training. These kinds of training stories are complicated to write well; they can be important to advancing the character, but they often do little to advance the plot. In a book series like this, which to me is driven much more by the plot and the magic than by the character development, an entire book of training felt like too much.
The best comparison I can come up with, and what I kept thinking throughout this book (I thought it with some other parts of the series, as well, but especially with this book), is that it reads a lot like playing a video game. Now, I don’t play many video games (and by not many, I mean none, unless you count a digital version of Sudoku), but it had that kind of rhythm to it, jumping from one “achievement” to the next. It’s somewhat unavoidable, given the nature of the magic system, but it did take away somewhat from the book.
All of that being said, I still found this book enjoyable, particularly for the insight that it gives on what the author refers to as “Sacred Beasts” – animals that have leveled up in the magic system and thereby gained sentience. This was a brilliant addition, and really made the world feel a lot more unique and interesting. So while I don’t think this book was as strong as the first two, I would still recommend it, especially since things really got interesting again in the fourth book (to be reviewed next week).