Tinderbox

W.A. Simpson. Flame Tree, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-78758-750-2

A grieving witch teams up with a displaced prince in Simpson’s fun if uneven debut. After witch Isbet and her sentient staff, Gaemyr, discover the body of Isbet’s murdered grandmother near an ancient and powerful tree, the duo set out on a quest for vengeance. But while Isbet’s been off training in magic, the lands of her childhood have been in turmoil at the mercy of conquering ruler Wilhelm Stark, who collects the young heirs of the kingdoms he’s invaded to raise as his own. Among the captured is Bram, Arch-bishop and Prince of Tamrath, who seeks to free both himself and his kingdom from Wilhelm’s rule. Bram and Isbet’s paths inevitably collide in a sprawling plot that sends them on the road, across kingdoms, and even into a mystical land called Underneath. Each setting is singular and vivid, Bram and Isbet are complex protagonists, and their growing friendship is wonderfully tender. The episodic nature of their journey—with new characters and conflicts around every turn—occasionally obscures the larger arc of the story, especially in the meandering middle. Still, Simpson sticks the landing with an epic conclusion. Fans of Andrea Hairston’s Master of Poisons and other secondary world fantasy will enjoy this expansive magical adventure. Agent: Anne Tibbets, Donald Maass Literary. (Aug.)
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