Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.
In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.
Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.
Thank you Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for an e-copy of this book.
I always say that I am a big fan of standalone books, I prefer one-shot stories over duologies or trilogies. Except, on this rare occasion I felt this should have been at least a duology.
This story is told from two POVs, Karis and Alix. Karis is an orphan girl, who was forcibly separated from her brother when they were brought to Tallis island. She doesn’t know where they took her brother to or what happened to him. She was forced to work for the Scriptorium, wearing a bracelet to track her all the time. Except for Dane, another orphan who became a soldier for the Scriptorium, she was never able to, or wanted to, connect with anyone else on this island. She never felt like she belonged or wanted to stay as her only purpose in life was to find out where her brother was taken. One day, she accidentally finds a cave where one of the automatons, an ancient and mysterious machine from the past, was hidden. All the automatons stop working for some unknown reason 200 years before and the Scriptorium has been working relentlessly to find a way to wake them up since then. Karis manages to wake the automaton in the cave using its runes and tomes, and she astonishingly finds out the automaton, Alix (he not it), can think and talk. Karis and Alix try to escape Tallis in pursuit of finding what happened to their respective remaining families.
In the beginning, we are introduced to an interesting magic system, with runes activated via tomes or through a ledger, which are also engraved in the surface of the abandoned dormant automatons and that made me super excited about the story. And from the very first chapter we encountered Alix, I was absolutely in love with this character.
The story continues, told from Karis and Alix’s perspective, and it is fast-paced and easy to read. Other side characters start to be introduced in the story and I suddenly sadly realise that Karis wasn’t bringing anything to the plot. On the journey to find Karis’s brother and more information about Alix’s father, the writer brings into the play this amazing, smart, badass pirate queen, Zara. In my opinion, she absolutely overshadows Karis as the female main character, and I thought Zara had a way bigger story to tell. Continuing with the reading, Karis becomes a bit insignificant, doesn’t add much to the story, doesn’t do anything special to help the development of the story, and I felt the dual POVs wasn’t actually working. Both POVs were just a mix of each other’s inner thoughts.
Alix was a very well developed character, with some concrete character development. Everybody sees him as an object, a tool or a weapon and he is struggling to be accepted for someone with opinions, likes and dislikes and feelings. He has to find his place and purpose in the world. Karis, well… we know she is looking for her brother, and that’s the only thing she cares about. It’s mentioned at the beginning she is asexual but even this characteristic ends there. I felt unfortunate that even her being asexual was not explored further, which is a bit of a shame. In the end, Karis’s growth was forced, I didn’t like her as the main character and she didn’t strike me as a vital part of the plot or with exceptional strengths.
In general, this story started with a good premise and interesting world-building, with Ancient Greek vibes and AI-like automatons. It’s well written and easy to read, and I was intrigued to see where Alix’s story would go and discover more about Zara’s past. Towards the end, I was a bit confused by the magic-system and the ending left me with lots of unanswered questions and plot holes. Here’s why I thought it should have been a duology, so Karis could have more space to grow and be more the main character that she was supposed to be, and also to fully explore the automatons’ story.
I still think it’s worth reading for Alix and Zara – and I wish there was a book only for her. If you like fantasy stories without romance being the main focus you would like this. Unfortunately, I am all for romance in every shade, so I missed that bit in this story. There is in general good diversity representation as well, but it could have been more. This Golden Flame brings in the basics of a fascinating world-building but the plot and pace shift during the second part and the repetitions in Alix’s internal dialogues makes me give it just 3.5 stars.