Firethorn is a drudge. After her mistress dies, she flees the new master of the household and survives on her own for a year in the Kingswood--god-forged. She would have died, if not for the interception of the god Ardor.
When she returns to her town, she meets a young nobleman on his way to the king's war and he convinces her to come with him as his sheath--which means exactly what you think it does.
Firethorn (also called Luck) is a frustrating character. As a foundling, she is never sure of her parentage or where she comes from. She remembers almost nothing of her life before her time as the Mistress's drudge, but she never quite fits in the hierarchy--even though she is very aware of the hierarchy and how it works. As a female drudge, she is less valuable than any man on the road to war, in spite of her knowledge as a greenwoman. The only people who value her are the other women she encounters and the nobleman she follows--although his respect is earned on hard terms.
I liked Firethorn, especially in the beginning. Micklem's style reminded me of Robin McKinley's, except that it's not quite as developed (but this is her first book). One of the main elements and plot-movers of this book is sex. It's not particularly descriptive--there are no heaving bosoms or bodices torn asunder--but there's no avoiding it. Firethorn's character is considerably formed by her sexuality and a lot of the plot is dependent on the men in the camp wanting her. Underneath it all, though, it's about Firethorn's journey to a sense of self--which will be continued in the next book, Wildfire.
Days after reading the last page, I still wake up wanting to continue the story. I liked the world Micklem created--the complicated polytheism, the equally complicated caste hierarchy. At no point did I feel like Micklem let the characters do something uncharacteristic just to make the plot easier or to move it along, which would have been easy to do I think. I am looking forward to Wildfire.
Micklem's Firethorn & Wildfire site
Thanks to my library and their participation in interlibrary loans. Now if only there weren't that policy about books released within the year... I can't request Wildfire for another 7 months.