We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Series: We Set the Dark on Fire, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: February 26th 2019

      “At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.
      Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.
      And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.
      Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?”

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“You’re a hundred shades of a girl. You hold those shadows and bring them to life when you need them, and they’re flawless. Look how far you’ve risen, how many people you’ve fooled.”

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut, We Set the Dark on Fire, is an empowering dystopian fantasy with real-world correlations about classism and immigration. Daniela Vargas has done everything in her power to hide that she was born on the wrong side of the island of Medio. She’s risen above her station and is on the verge of fulfilling all the dreams her parents have had for her. As a graduate from the Medio School for Girls, Dani will become one of two wives to a son of one of Medio’s most powerful political families. Just when it becomes certain that her secret will unravel all her well-laid plans, she’s thrown a lifeline by an operative of the notorious revolutionary group La Voz. In exchange for their aid, Dani will have to become a spy in her new husband’s household, but Mateo Garcia isn’t just the son of a powerful father, he has direct influence over the policies that have kept people like Dani in poverty. Further complicating matters are Dani’s growing feelings for her husband’s other wife Carmen. When Dani sees first hand how ruthless the government can be, she must decide if she’s willing to fight for a safer future for everyone by standing in direct opposition to her husband. But if he discovers her deception, she won’t live long enough to see such a future.

There are so many intricate details to the world-building in this one, every element felt so deliberate and added something unique to the narrative. We Set the Dark on Fire opens with Medio mythology, weaving a story of two brother Gods and the jealousy that tore them apart. It’s a story that ends with the island of Medio being separated by a wall, where one class of people is allowed to flourish, while the other is condemned to a life of poverty. It’s the origin of Medio’s matrimonial tradition of raising a select group of girls to be married off to the most eligible and rich bachelors. Dani has been groomed to be a Primera, the wife meant to be her husband’s equal in intelligence and power. Carmen is a Segunda, the more nurturing of the pair, meant to provide her husband with a warm home and children. This mythology becomes a justification for people like Mateo Garcia to see people seeking a better life as law-breakers, groups like La Voz calling for equality as dangerous, and anyone sympathetic to these people as traitors. In this world, morality is not black and white. Those in opposition to rebel groups like La Voz believe they have more of a claim to liberty and prosperity, and they will do everything in their power to keep the population fearful. Those on the resistance side have tried to keep their protests peaceful, but their people are starving, are being thrown in prison, and when change refuses to happen, you’re left with little choice but extremes.

I loved how different Dani and Carmen were as characters as they were raised to take on certain roles. As a Primera, Dani has been taught to value her stoicism, to not give anything away, to observe before acting. Carmen on the other hand has been raised a Segunda, known for their passion and enthusiasm. Watching their relationship develop was such a treat. At first, every interaction and every word is fraught with animosity, but slowly their exchanges become charged with tension and an undeniable attraction. I loved Dani’s personal story arc as a young woman hoping to make the best of her circumstances. Her parents’ dream has become her own goal, even though she might have been happier living a simpler life. She carries their dreams on her shoulders and when she is given an opportunity to do more with her life, to fight for those not as fortunate as herself, she has to decide not only to give up the comforts of her new life, but also risk the dreams her parents had for her. I really wish we got a couple of chapters from Carmen’s perspective. With the way this one ends, it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of who this young woman is.

We Set the Dark on Fire is like no other dystopian fantasy that I’ve read. I loved that it centers Latinx culture, features two complex Latina characters, and that their romance is given center-stage despite the patriarchal setting.

★★★★

(4/5)

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The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

Title: The Book of Ivy
Author: Amy Engel
Series: The Book of Ivy, #1

In a world devastated by war, the remaining survivors battled for power and now live under the stringent rule of President Lattimer. To curb the animosity between the Westside, those who supported Samuel Westfall’s rule and Eastglen, those who sided with the Lattimers, the president has decreed two dates in which each side should give their daughters in marriage to the other. For Ivy Westfall, whose whole life seems mapped out for her, this means marrying Bishop Lattimer, the president’s son. What the president doesn’t know is that the Westfall family has never admitted defeat, and they will do anything to take back power. Ivy is their weapon and Bishop is her target, but her new husband is not what she expected and the more time she spends with him, the more she begins to question her mission.

“Not everyone who dies in a war is guilty. Sometimes they’re just on the wrong side.”

Amy Engel’s The Book of Ivy is not the most original story, in many ways it’s even a little predictable, but despite this, I actually really enjoyed it. Ivy has been raised to believe the very worst about the Lattimers. She sees the current marriage system as a way to control those opposed to Lattimer rule and her family’s cause the means to set things right. Much of the story revolves around Ivy discovering that not everything is black and white, and despite the fact that her family is fighting against this oppressive government, it doesn’t justify their own methods. This becomes clearer to Ivy as her relationship with Bishop grows.

Bishop doesn’t always agree with his father and he’s genuine in his interest of Ivy. At first he seemed a little too perfect, but as the story progresses, there is a recklessness in him, a willingness to go to great lengths to protect those unable to protect themselves, that is both heroic and frightening. Ivy, brought up beside her sister and educated by her father, has been isolated from the outside world. Bishop, who grew up as an only child and kept at an arm’s length by everyone because of his father, reminds Ivy of herself in many ways. There is something very lonely about these two characters and the fact that they find some kind of solace in each other seems very fitting.

The Book of Ivy isn’t without its flaws. I found the setup for this world lacked enough detail. The idea that nuclear war has destroyed the world and a group of survivors have built themselves a city surrounded by a wall is a little cliché. But I really enjoyed the evolution of Ivy and Bishop’s relationship and seeing how Ivy finds strength in herself, especially in the characteristics she’s been brought up to believe are a weakness.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Title: Stung
Author: Bethany Wiggins
Series: Stung, #1

Fiona Tarsis wakes up to a dilapidated home with no sign of her family anywhere. The mysterious tattoo on her right hand she can’t remember receiving echoes some faint warning of danger. Fiona finds herself in a world far different from the one she remembers.

In an attempt to prevent the extinction of bees, the government genetically modified the insects, but their stings caused a wide-spread sickness, resulting in a flu-like epidemic. A vaccine is concocted in an effort to end this new crisis, unfortunately the side-effects proved more costly than the illness. Those injected with the vaccine began exhibiting a feral savagery. A wall was built around a safe-haven to protect future generations. Several groups are on the hunt for these beast-like people and Fiona finds herself marked as one.

“As I jump out the window, fingers slip over my neck, gouge into my cheek, and clamp down on my long, tangled hair. Fire lines my scalp as the skin pulls taut against my skull. I hang with my feet just above the balcony and flail, dangling by my hair.”

According to the author, if society collapsed all men would basically be nothing more than sexually-driven animals with no moral bounds to stave their cravings. The only explanation for this carnal and abased world where it isn’t safe to be a woman is the low female population, which in itself is not explained but just thrown out there like it is supposed to explain everything. So, no women=salacious men hunting down anything with breasts for the sake of their own sexual gratification despite the fact that she may very well have the capacity to rip them to pieces with her bare hands.

I’m really confused about how I’m supposed to view Fiona. The girl wakes up and remembers that she’s thirteen even though her body clearly says she’s older. Am I then to view this girl as a thirteen-year old in a seventeen-year old’s body? If not, then shouldn’t there be a time period where she mentally matures and catches up to her body? This is a problem, especially when she begins to have feelings for Bowen, her protector.

Her relationship with the aforementioned individual is both swift and kind of creepy if you factor in Fiona’s mental age. This is ironic because Bowen says it made him uncomfortable when men looked at twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old’s as potential brides. I also found myself laughing at the over-the-top sentimental words coming out of this guy’s mouth. In fact I laughed quite a bit while reading Stung, which is not a good sign when it isn’t supposed to be a comedy.

Rating: 1/5