Our lovely deputy, Jayfrost, has written an in-depth review of “River of Fire,” from A Vision of Shadows. Obvious spoilers abound, both for AVoS and various others!
RIVER OF FIRE REVIEW
Since I enjoyed writing my Goosefeather’s Cure and my Moth Flight’s Vision reviews, I’ve decided that from now on I will make my reviews full articles. Once again, I’ll say what I liked, what I didn’t like, neutral thoughts, and so on.
So without further ado, my thoughts on River of Fire.
SPOILERS FOR SHATTERED SKY AND VARIOUS OTHER BOOKS!!!
Alderheart’s Relationship with Jayfeather
I had some issues with the book, which I’ll get to later, but one of the things that I really did like was the relationship between Alderheart and Jayfeather. Alderheart in general has remained one of my favorite parts of AVoS. He has grown a lot in confidence and really grown into his role as a medicine cat while still remaining a very thoughtful and caring cat.
While Jayfeather has occassionally felt a little out of character and too grumpy in this series, I felt he really shone in this book, especially in his conversations with Alderheart. Their conversation after Velvet left, and their conversation after Briarlight’s death, were my favorites in the book. There was something very sweet and genuine about how they regarded each other, with Jayfeather worrying about Alderheart following Velvet out of the Clan and assuring him that him leaving would be like a wound for the Clan, and Alderheart insisiting that Briarlight’s death wasn’t Jayfeather’s fault and thinking that he belonged in ThunderCaln with the cranky old tom.
In fact, “I know where I belong, he thought. It’s with you, you grouchy, difficult, dedicated furball. And with ThunderCLan.” is my favorite line in the entire book. It just shows how much Alderheart cares for his grumpy mentor, and Jayfeather showed through his concern for Alderheart leaving and his unusual sincerity in assuring Alderheart how much he was needed there just how much he cares about Alderheart in return. I felt that there was a very strong sense of the bond between them in this book, and it was really one of the highlights of the book for me.
Tension Within SkyClan
I don’t entirely count this as a pro for the book, which I’ll discuss later. A lot of the conflict felt forced to me. However, I did feel like the conflict inside of SkyClan, barring Leafstar’s out of character behavior, did feel very fitting and did add conflict to the book.
The conflict of two Clans trying to merge into one felt very believable, and I could certainly understand the frustration of the ShadowClan cats who never wanted to be SkyClan to begin with, and I could also understand the frustration of the SkyClan cats who don’t want Clanmates whose loyalties are so divided. I do feel it was a bit too dragged out, but it did feel like the warriors themselves were acting realistically for the situation, and their frustations were very understandable, and it added good conflict to the book.
Other than the Alderheart and Jayfeather conversations, this was probably my favorite scene in the book. I was hoping Twigbranch would have a good chance to really prove herself as a competent warrior, and this scene gave me exactly that. It was a great chance to show her bravery and skill, and to allow her to help a cat in need. It not only showed her courage, but also her loyalty to the protection of all five Clans, not just her own. It was a well-written scene, suspenseful and action-packed, and very fitting for Twigbranch’s character arc.
It was also very nice to see Mallowtail and especially Finleap jump in to save her, as it also gave Finleap a chance to show his courage. I guess this is why he was made a warrior, though I do question whether he was really ready to be a full warrior, since Twigbranch mentioned that he wasn’t as advanced as her in training? Oh well, it was a nice scene regardless, and I loved that he and Twigbranch had the chance to prove their courage and their worth before earning their full names as ThunderClan warriors.
Finleap’s Name and Violetshine’s Place
I put these two in the same section because I didn’t have enough to say about either one to fill two sections. 😛 I don’t really have anything insightful or lengthy to say about Finleap’s name. It’s really fitting for his happy, confident, and energetic personality, and it sounds cool. I just like it. ^^
As for Violetshine, this wasn’t greatly focused on in the book, but I did really appreciate how it was emphasized that Violetshine has finally found a place where she is loved and appreciated for who she is, and that she finally feels that she belongs. I liked that the book took the time to let her declare how she belonged in SkyClan and was happy to be there now. It felt like a satisfying conclusion for her arc of trying to figure out where she belonged. It was nice seeing her happy for once with where she was, and with seeing her make up with Twigbranch and forgiving her for leaving.
Bringing Cats Back
I always love when the series finds a way to bring back cats that were somehow left beind, whether they left or died. It makes it feel less like they were forgotten about and brings a good feeling of continuity to the series. And there were a few examples of that in this book.
First is Fuzzball. That cat was a stand-out for me in Tigerheart’s Shadow, and I loved that he got to appear again in this book. I do wish he’d gotten to be a Clan cat, but I guess with his exciteable and friendly personality he might not quite be cut out for Clan life. Regardless, it was great to see him again, and Alderheart assigning him to look after Jayfeather as punishment for Jayfeather being a pain was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Another great cameo was Jacques and Susan. It’s been ages since we’ve seen the kittypet duo that caused ShadowClan so much trouble in Twilight and caused the death of young Talonpaw. It’s nice to see that they’re still living near ShadowClan and are still a threat. It was interesting to see them leading the ShadowClan cats to Sleekwhisker and the kits. I’m still not sure why they did that, only to attack them later, but they do still have a good sense of menace. It was great to see them again.
The last great cameo was Cinderpelt. It’s always great to see a StarClan cat who isn’t Yellowfang, Bluestar, Firestar, or Spottedleaf (rest in peace) pop up and be allowed to give a message to a medicine cat. It’s also always wonderful when a cat from an older series relates events from an earlier series to the current protagnoist. I loved seeing Cinderpelt talk about her love for Firestar with Alderheart in relation to his crush on Velvet. It was a bit odd since she never revealed her love for Firestar to anyone, but she is a StarClan spirit now, so maybe she feels the need to keep her life and feelings secret less. Either way, it was a great way to bring some Warriors history into its present, and it was a nice way to bring Cinderpelt back for a bit.
Overly Grumpy Leaders
Alright, onto the cons. I did feel like this book had a fair few problems. One of them was some of the leaders acting really out of character and being much more aggressive and irritable than is usual for them. Leafstar was by far the worst offender in this regard, though Mistystar wasn’t much better, and even Bramblestar had his moments.
When we saw Leafstar before in Firestar’s Quest, SkyClan’s Destiny, and SkyClan and the Stranger, her character was pretty consistent throughout. She was a calm, noble, and thoughtful cat. She struggled with the best way to lead her Clan and with being authorotative, but at her core she cared deeply for her Clan, and was willing to bend the rules of the warrior code to best suit how SkyClan needed to live in the gorge. She was the one who came up with the idea of taking in kittypets as daylight warriors, and she even came up with a new part of the specific SkyClan code where new cats could be be welcomed into the gorge, but wouldn’t be taught fighting skills until they had been part of the Clan for a moon.
The Leafstar we’ve been seeing in AVoS, and especially in this book, is very different from that Leafstar. This Leafstar is strict, irritable, stubborn, and highly authorotative. She was angry throughout pretty much this entire book, and had very limited patience for any cat. I understand why the situation with ShadowClan being wishy-washy about their loyalty would be frustrating for her, I really do. But the extent to which she was snapping at everyone around her and refused to listen to the opinions of others really did not fit her character as we’ve seen it before.
Perhaps most jarring of all was her declaration that SkyClan would never accept new cats into the Clan again. This is the cat who argued with her own deputy in defense of the daylight warrior, who added a new part to the code that would allow outsiders to be accepted in, and who became mates with a daylight warrior. I just don’t feel like the cat we’re seeing in AVoS fits Leafstar’s character at all, and it just feels like this conflict is being forced just to give the books some tension. I just hope we get back the Leafstar we’ve seen in the previous books, because this cat is not acting like that Leafstar at all.
Mistystar was also acting rather out of character in this book. In the book itself, there was her telling Alderheart that he shouldn’t collect watermint at the border again. I would understand if she was annoyed if Alderheart was collecting watermint on RiverClan’s side of the border. However, he wasn’t. He was collecting it on WindClan’s side, with WindClan’s permission. I don’t care how close to the border they were, they were on WindClan’s side of the border, not RiverClan’s, which means those herbs were on WindClan’s territory, making them WindClan’s herbs. Closed borders or no, she has no right to tell cats where they are and aren’t allowed to collect herbs outside of her territory.
She was even worse in the bonus scene. Willowshine’s mother was dying of sickness (I liked the acknowledgement that Mosspelt was Willowshine’s mother by the by, it seems like family relationships are sometimes forgotten about or ignored for side characters, so it was nice to see that acknowledged again), and Willowshine was desperate for some way to not only heal her but the rest of the Clanmates. When she tries to talk to Mistystar about it, Mistystar completely shuts down the conversation and refuses to listen to Willowshine’s pleas. I get why she closed the borders in the first place, RiverClan needed time to heal, but I really didn’t like how she just shut down any dissenting opinions from her medicine cats and refused to listen at all.
I also didn’t like how she lied about RiverClan’s decision to come back to the Clans being made before the fire. We saw very clearly in the bonus scene that this was not the case. The last time we saw Mistystar was when she refused to listen to anything Willowshine had to say about opening the borders again. I don’t really see what the big deal is about RiverClan only deciding to come back after the fire, but I really don’t like that Mistystar lied about it. It doesn’t fit the character we’ve seen from her at all. She’s always been a very noble warrior, not the stubborn, annoyed cat we’re seeing now. She’s always been one of my favorite characters, so it’s sad for me to see her acting so oddly. I hope we get the noble Mistystar we’ve seen before back.
Not Enough Conflict or Urgency
I know I talked about the tension in SkyClan being pretty good, but the rest of the tension in the book either wasn’t strong enough, or just felt forced. A lot of the tension about SkyClan and ShadowClan and all of that, and especially the conflict with RiverClan and the watermint, just felt forced, because it was the result of the leaders acting out of character just to push conflict. I can’t get invested in a conflict if it’s clearly the result of characters being written out of character just to make the conflict happen.
The belly sickness was a great opportunity to inject some actually genuine conflict into the book. However, if you want a sickness to actually feel like a threat to the Clans, you really need for more cats to die from it, or at least stay ill for longer than they did. A lot of cats fell sick initially, the situation was starting to feel grim, and worst of all, Squirrelflight was sick – and then all of the sudden, they’ve got watermint, cats are getting better, and suddenly Jayfeather is the only cat left sick.
Yeah, Briarlight dies, but she’s the only one, and by then the rest of the Clan seemed to be out of danger. Squirrelflight’s sickness, which is dropped as a big bombshell at the end of the chapter, is never mentioned again after that initial revelation that she’s sick. ThunderClan’s deputy, and the main character’s mother, falling ill should be a huge deal, but instead it’s never mentioned again, and she’s immediately all better again in her next appearance.
Overall, some of the tension was done well, but most of it just kind of fell flat for me.
No Kittypets in ThunderClan?
This is a bit more of a minor note, but Bramblestar also seemed kind of out of character, thought not nearly as badly as Mistystar and Leafstar. He was mostly fine, and I appreciated how he actually listened when Twigpaw complained about Sparkpelt was training her and talked to her about it. However, two things in particular bugged me. One was how he talked about Tigerstar II as a new leader. I get why anyone would be uneasy about another Tigerstar leading ShadowClan, and I appreciated that parallel being pointed out. However, Bramblestar knows better than anyone that looking like Tigerstar I doesn’t mean being like him, and how hard it is to constantly be compared to Tigerstar I when you haven’t done anything wrong. So it did feel odd that he was the one saying he was uneasy about Tigerstar II being a new leader.
The other, bigger issue I had with him was his declaration that ThunderClan didn’t take in kittypets and him wanting to immediately turn away Velvet and Fuzzball. Um, excuse me, since when does ThunderClan not take in kittypets? Cloudtail and Stormcloud are both former kittypets who settled just fine into the Clan, Bramblestar’s own mate is half kittypet, and there are many cats in ThunderClan now with kittypet blood because of Firestar and Cloudtail and their kits.
I get that not every kittypet is suited to Clan life, but him just immediatley throwing down this blanket statement of “ThunderClan doesn’t take in kittypets” and wanting to immediately turn them away without even giving them a chance just felt very odd for him as a character – especially after he took in three kittypets during Bramblestar’s Storm.
I dunno, that wasn’t even a very big part of the book, but it just bothered me, especially after how far the Clans had seemed to come in accepting outsiders and realizing that not being Clanborn doesn’t mean you can’t have the heart of a Clan warrior.
Tree is Lazy
I liked Tree when he first showed up in the bonus scene of Thunder and Shadow, but he annoyed me a fair bit in this book. I just didn’t get the sense that he was actually putting effort into trying to find a place in SkyClan. I don’t necessarily mind the idea of a mediator as a role (though the purist in me is mourning the loss of medicine cat, permanent queen, and warrior as the only adult roles in the Clan other than deputy and leader), but the way it was presented, it kind of felt like an excuse for Tree to stay in the Clan even though he hadn’t actually tried very hard to be a hunter or a healer.
I dunno, I was just annoyed with him not seeming to take the whole thing very seriously, and it was one of the few times I agreed with Leafstar in the book, when she got annoyed with him for not trying hard enough to actually be a good warrior or medicine cat for the Clan. Violetshine even admitted herself that he didn’t seem to be trying very hard, even while she was mooning over him for no visible reason.
Another big part of what annoyed me about this book were the romances. And by this I in no way mean Twigbranch and Finleap. Those two are a great example of how to write a couple. The attraction is clearly there, but they aren’t being forced into a relationship right away, they’re being given enough time to develop a friendship and a connection first, and the progression of their relationship is slow, since they’re young. I love those two, more scenes of them are always welcome.
No, when I’m talking about forced romances, I’m talking about Violetshine and Tree, and Alderheart and Velvet. In the case of Violetshine and Tree, I felt very little chemistry between them, and very little was shown of the connection growing between them or them getting to know each other. It was mostly just us being told that Violetshine likes Tree, not shown. And we’re not even told why she likes him, what it is about him that draws her to him, just that she does. It’s just weird, and it feels very forced. If they’re going to be a couple, I want to see more of them actually talking and hanging out and getting to know each other, not just Violetshine liking him for no reason.
With Velvet and Alderheart, there’s a bit more chemistry, but it still did feel kind of forced. Alderheart immediately called her pretty upon meeting her, and then continued to moon over her for the rest of their interactions. It did lead to the nice conversation with Jayfeather about Alderheart being needed in ThundeClan, and I did like Alderheart’s talk with her when he decided they couldn’t have a future because he belonged in ThunderClan. But it did just feel kind of forced, because apparently every medicine cat needs a bit of forbidden romance in their lives. Can’t we have just one medicine cat who doesn’t have some sort of forbidden romance drama in their lives? It’s feeling a bit repetitive at this point.
I’m not one to rag about names in the series. I personally love a lot of the daylight warrior names, Billystorm is one of my favorites, and even names that I don’t like I don’t worry about much. However, some of the names in this book not only don’t sound good, but don’t make any sense in regard to how warrior names are structured.
The one everyone’s been talking about, of course, is Twigbranch. I have to agree that this is not a great warrior name, and it does suck that one of the main characters in this arc gets stuck with one of the worst names. It just doesn’t make any sense as a warrior name. The in-text explanation, naming her after her growth, does make a bit of sense, but it’s just not a great name. A branch is the same thing as a twig, just slightly bigger. That’s like naming a cat Streamriver, or Mistyfog, or Birdsparrow. Both parts of her name mean the same thing, it’s just very repetitive and doesn’t mean anything, and it doesn’t sound good.
My other problem is with a lot of the new kit names. Cinderheart’s litter has some odd names, but they’re not ncessarily terrible. Fly- has been used before, but Spot- and Snap- are new. I am curious to see how they’ll work as full warrior names, but I’m not opposed to them either, I think they could work if the right suffixes are picked to go with them. Same with Hop- and Flax- they’re not usual for Clan names, but they’re not horrible either, and they could certainly work.
However, Ivypool’s litter really got the short end of the stick when it came to names. Bristle- is fine, I think that one’s been used before, and it could work with plenty of suffixes. However, I have to say, I really don’t like Thrift- and Flip- as Clan prefixes. I mean… what do they even mean? How is a kit thrifty? How is that a good thing to name a cat after? And what is Flip- supposed to indicate? Maybe if her ears are flipped over weird like an American Curl or a Scottish Fold, it might make some sense as a name. But otherwise, it just makes no sense at all, and it just deson’t sound good. I don’t see what suffixes they could possibly be paired with to make them sound good either.
Forced Rowanclaw Death
It’s nice to see that Sleekwhisker is still a villain (I was really hoping we wouldn’t lose one of our only female villains, especially since she actively helped murder innocent cats with no signs of remorse earlier in the series), but the whole set-up with her stealing the kits really just felt like an excuse for force in a noble death for Rowanclaw. If you wanted a noble death for Rowanclaw that didn’t deviate from the plot too much, you could’ve had him die helping some cat escape from the later fires. Or he could’ve died from the sickness to help give it some sense of urgency. But as it is, this whole scenario just kind of felt like a way for Rowanclaw to die, not a scene developed for its own purposes.
Still No ShadowClan Deputy
I was really hoping to learn who ShadowClan’s deputy was in this book, so I was kind of disappointed not to. I still really hope it’ll be Tawnypelt, she deserves it so much. But after how he helped try to protect his Clan’s interests, as someone else pointed out, I wouldn’t mind if it was Juniperclaw.
Overall, I’m not totally sure how to feel about this book. There are some things in this book that I definitely liked a lot, but there are also things that bothered me or just fell flat. I’m not sure. I might have to think about it for a while, sometimes I have to put some distance between myself and whatever I’ve just read/watched to decide how I feel about it. Like I said, there are parts of it that I really did like, but there are definitely AVoS books that I enjoyed much more.