This Golden Flame
This Golden Flame
by Emily Victoria
Published 2 February 2021
by Inkyard Press (HarperCollins)
Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: YA Fantasy Adventure, LGBTIA
First of all, I have a lot of people at HarperCollins to thank for ARC access to this title. I am on the HarperCollins Canada influencer list and attended an online YA preview event in December 2020, which is when I heard about this book. Everything about it excited me! From the title and cover design to the synopsis to the fact that a Canadian wrote it and it has so much LGBTQIA representation. The cherry on top is that publication day for this title, February 2nd, is my birthday! We were told at that event that we’d all be receiving a randomly selected ARC and I hoped it would be this one, but I ran off to NetGalley and Edelweiss to request the eARC anyway, just in case. My HCC contact Marisol Fokes helped arrange to ensure I was granted access through Edelweiss and I eagerly scheduled it into my reading list. Days later my NetGalley request with the USA team was also approved, and then weeks after when I had forgotten about those randomly selected print ARCs, a beautiful proof of this title showed up unannounced on my doorstep. Thank you! Thank you to everyone at HarperCollins who had a hand in permitting me to read this three times over, thank you to Marisol Folkes and the HCC Frenzy team for making me aware of this book in the first place, and thank you to Emily Victoria for writing such an amazing book!
With all of that said, the wealth of ARC access has not swayed my opinion in any way. This may be a glowing 5-star review, but it is an honest and entirely genuine one, and I wouldn’t have said anything differently (apart from the paragraph above) if I had been forced to wait for a published copy.
The Scriptorium plucks orphaned children off the streets and puts them to work to serve their goals, all of which funnel into the primary goal of awakening the world’s slumbering atomatons. Karis is one of those orphans, and she’s been studying the runes she copies for her masters to work with. Her brother was culled from this island’s group and sent elsewhere, and her one mission in life is to get off the island and find him. When Karis discovers an unexplored cave and within it finds an automaton like no other, and awakens him, she dares to hope that she’s solved all her problems. This atomaton can get her into the records hall and then off the island. What she didn’t anticipate was discovering that this Atamoton, Alix, is more than a mindless machine controlled by runes in a tome.
This book is told in the first person, present tense from two points of view: Karis and Alix. The discovery and awakening of Alex is the first major event which means we get to read Alix’s POV as early as the second chapter. POVs are consistent throughout a chapter and all chapters are labelled with the character’s name, so there is no confusion if you are reading a print or eBook copy. I haven’t yet listened to an audiobook recording (if one even exists yet) but I do believe the two characters have been given distinct enough voices that any skilled narrator will be able to make them sound different without too much struggle or resorting to pitch shifting their own voice (something I’m not fond of listening to.) I do feel that both POVs are vital to the story and that although I’d love to be in a few other characters’ heads, none of the others were needed. Two POVs is exactly what this story called for, and it was executed very well. Between the two I enjoyed reading Alix most, but that may be the hardcore SFF fan in me whose favourite Star Trek character has always been Data. I’m a sucker for artificial beings wrestling with their humanity!
The points of interest on the back of my print ARC include mention that this title is an #OwnVoices asexual representation story, and yes, can confirm, Karis is asexual. We also get other LGBTQIA orientations and gender identities (including a pair of gay lovers and a pirate who uses they/them pronouns.) I would like to praise this book and author for writing these representations into the book without making them major plot points and for having the other characters be accepting. As a demisexual she/they pronoun user, I absolutely love that! With all of that said, the ace element may have been a little too buried in the first half of the book. Having read that tidbit about representation before reading the book, I was looking for the ace character, and I pegged Karis early on for two reasons: I assumed (as was correct) that this book would not be delving into the sexual orientation of created beings with metal bodies so that knocked out one of the two POV characters, and although it felt to me as the reader like Dane might be feeling more than just friendship or perhaps brotherly kinship for Karis, all of that seemed to fly over her head. If I hadn’t been given the heads-up that there’s ace representation in the book, I would have simply assumed Karis wasn’t interested in Dane, specifically, up until about two-thirds of the way through the book when Karis privately reflects on her asexuality and spells it out on the page. This isn’t a bad thing at all, I did say that I appreciate that orientations and identities weren’t major plot points, but I mention this in case anyone daring enough to read reviews first is looking forward to the ace representation and might otherwise spend a lot of the book wondering when it’s going to show up.
I love the world-building and magic system in This Golden Flame! The world feels like an ancient Rome/ancient Greece inspired version of Earthsea, with humanity scattered across small islands. It’s both fresh and exciting, but also comfortably familiar, and I love that. The rune-based magic with the addition of a natural essence of magic (script ink) that civilizations past had figured out how to distill and use, but modern people have forgotten, is absolutely fascinating. It felt very alchemy inspired, but again in a fresh way. I also really enjoyed the fact that this book heavily featured a very polite crew of pirates!
Representation in this book: Asexual, Gay relationship, they/them pronoun user, low vision disability, orphan status
Content warning: mild knife/sword violence, threats of murder, orphan status, forced separation of siblings, situations that can be considered allegory for slavery
This book works amazingly well as a stand-alone, and if it remains a stand-alone I would not be upset …but I would also really like to hear what happens next!
This review has been cross-posted to Westveil Publishing, where you can also find the official synopsis and links for this book.