Note: some spoilers for earlier books in this series.
The hair-raising adventures of Lila Merriweather conclude in Bright Blaze of Magic, the third volume of Jennifer Estep’s BLACK BLADE young adult urban fantasy series. Lila, age seventeen, is not only a highly skilled thief, but also has amazing sword-fighting abilities and extraordinary magical powers, not to mention championship snarking abilities. In the town of Cloudburst Falls, where magical power is so prevalent that the town attracts tourists who want to see magical people and creatures, people’s magical strength lends itself to political power. Lila is a bodyguard for the Sinclair Family, particularly the son and heir of the family, Devon Sinclair. Since the first book, Cold Burn of Magic, the feud between the Sinclairs and their bitter rivals, the Draconi Family, has been heating up. Now the conflict threatens to explode: Victor Draconi, the evil head of the Draconis, has been stockpiling magical swords and is almost ready to take over the town and stamp out all of the competing Families.
At the end of the second book, Dark Heart of Magic, Lila and her friends, Devon Sinclair and Felix Morales, discovered the magical swords in a hidden room in the Draconi castle. Using Lila’s talent for burglary and their friendship with Deah Draconi, Victor’s daughter, they’re now sneaking into the castle and replacing most of the magical swords with ordinary swords. But Victor’s army is so large that just stealing these swords isn’t going to be enough to neutralize the deadly threat that the Draconi Family presents to the other magical families. When Victor and his son Blake suddenly make their move, many people are murdered or captured by the Draconis. Lila and her friends escape and go into hiding, unable to compete head-to-head with the far superior forces that the Draconis command. It seems that Victor holds all the cards … but has he underestimated Lila?
Lila dashes from one dangerous situation to another in this fast-paced tale, leading her friends into and out of hazards. Burglary, swordfights, infiltrations of enemy territory, encounters with copper crushers (huge magical venomous snakes), hostage rescues: it’s all in day’s work for these teenagers. Their encounter with the huge lochness monster, who lurks, troll-like, under a bridge and snatches unwary people who cross its bridge without paying the traditional toll, was one of the highlights of the story. We get to know the character of the lochness, one of my favorite monsters from Cold Burn of Magic, just a little better in this final tale in the trilogy. Lila learns about the importance of respect and friendship, even toward monsters … well, excepting the copper crushers.
Jennifer Estep’s writing is smooth, if a little young and simplistic for more sophisticated readers. A few of her comments made me chuckle, like this simile:
With his black hair, bronze skin, and dark, soulful eyes, Felix was undeniably cute, but Devon was the one who made my heart race like a tree troll hopping from one branch to another.
The romance content in Bright Blaze of Magic is very mild, but there is a lot of violence and death, although it’s handled in a generally appropriate way for younger readers, without much gore. Occasionally Lila’s ability to handle situations and conquer opponents that are apparently too challenging for all of the adults to handle is over the top, but I think most teen readers won’t be as skeptical about that as I am. If you liked the first two books in this series, Bright Blaze of Magic won’t disappoint. The BLACK BLADE series isn’t particularly deep or complex, but it’s an engaging, fast-paced light fantasy that I think most middle grade and young adult readers will enjoy.