Fires of the Faithful: Sad, frightening, stirring

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNaomi Kritzer review Eliana's Song 1. Fires of the FaithfulFires of the Faithful by Naomi Kritzer

Eliana’s music-conservatory education is uneventful until Mira and the new song arrive. Mira is her new roommate; Eliana is drawn to her but suspects she is lying about her past. The song — a catchy little ditty about a murderous stepmother –may actually be a cover for a controversial idea. Then the inquisitors of the Fedeli show up at the conservatory, looking for heretics. Eliana is shocked and angered when a friend is executed —— and shocked again when she learns the secret cause behind a famine that has been plaguing the land.

Fires of the Faithful is set in an alternate Italy of roughly the Renaissance period. It follows Eliana as she leaves the conservatory behind, travels through the devastated countryside, and eventually becomes a rebel leader. A music student may seem like an unlikely revolutionary, but Naomi Kritzer shows how her peasant common sense and the lessons instilled at the conservatory enable her to bring a new perspective to the disorganized rebel movement she finds.

Religious persecution is a major theme, but Kritzer turns the usual trope on its head. The dominant religion is analogous to Wicca; it honors a co-equal Lady and Lord and embraces the practice of magic. The “Old Way” it’s trying to stamp out is based on Christianity (though its “God the Father” figure is female). Also interesting is that Eliana has no strong beliefs one way or the other. She was raised in the religion of the Lady and becomes aligned with the Old Way for political reasons, but she is not personally devout; rather, she becomes a rebel because the actions of the ruling Fedeli and Circle are abhorrent.

Kritzer’s flipping of the Pagans vs. Christians script and her non-religious heroine help keep the focus on the politics of faith rather than on faith itself or on which faith the reader is more sympathetic to. The problem is not what either side actually believes; the problem is the way religion can become corrupted by temporal power.

Fires of the Faithful is sad and frightening as Eliana discovers more and more terrible things that the Fedeli and Circle have done to protect their dirty secrets, and becomes stirring as she rises to leadership and starts to shake things up. The prose, especially the dialogue, occasionally feels a little too modern, but the story is absorbing enough that this was only a minor issue for me. Eliana’s story continues in Turning the Storm, which I will be seeking out.

Naomi Kritzer review Eliana's Song 1. Fires of the Faithful 2. Turning the StormNaomi Kritzer review Eliana's Song 1. Fires of the Faithful 2. Turning the Storm


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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