Wow February is bananas. I am not even almost done with my February reviews. So settle in for another round!
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Series: We Set the Dark on Fire #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 26, 2019
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Edelweiss
In this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.
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?
Do yourself a favor, and be sure to read the author’s note in this one! Sets up the whole book in such a marvelous way, and why this book is such a timely read.
The Things I Liked:
- The characters were incredibly sympathetic. Even at the start, when they’re making choices I’d rather they didn’t (in some cases), I still fully understood why they were doing it. They had backstories that really made them relatable, and really helped as a reader to form a connection. And they grew so much during the course of the book!
- The friendships and romance were great! Dani had mostly kept to herself in the beginning, which you’ll understand in terms of where she’s come from. But as the book progresses and she makes new friends and in some cases, more than friends, these relationships help shape the story in pretty monumental ways.
- Bringing down the patriarchy is a plot I can always get on board with! Ugh, why is society so gross? Ours, theirs, it’s all despicable, let’s be real. The only difference between Daniela’s world and ours is that they’re more honest about the fact that they want women’s only life purpose to be marrying some crappy dude. And wow, the aforementioned dude is truly a pile of human garbage. Dani being involved in taking it down? Perfection!
- The stakes felt high, and the story was good. I enjoyed it, even the moments that were quieter. I loved the world-building, the marketplaces, and of course, wondering what is going to happen as Dani gets herself involved further and further into the rebellion.
The Things I Didn’t:
- It reminded me of several other books. I am not saying it was a duplicate of some other book, just a lot of themes from a lot of other books were used, in a way that didn’t feel totally fresh? And because of that, maybe a wee bit predictable?
Bottom Line: Well, now I need to know what happens next! Dani is a strong character who has to make some incredibly difficult choices, and it’s absolutely worth reading about them!
This wasn’t bad, just kind of predictable. I am going to keep this short, because it’s a mystery book and you don’t want me to give away too much, of course! So I suppose a likes versus dislikes is the way to go, yet again!
The Things I Liked:
- Atmosphere on point! It was rainy and creepy and dismal, and that is what I want to happen in a mystery. The author did a good job at setting the scene for all sorts of roadblocks (some literally!) in terms of being able to easily solve the problem, and did it in a realistic way.
- The cult was definitely a mess. This is the kind of stuff I want from a cult- sketchy leadership, dire situations, and general awfulness. And it was definitely present in this book!
The Things I Didn’t:
- Like I said, it was so predictable for me. View Spoiler »I mean, we’re supposed to know that Mella is in the cult from page 1 basically, right? Because if that was supposed to be a “twist”… well, it really, really isn’t. « Hide Spoiler I really can’t think of any major plot points that I didn’t know pretty early on, actually.
- While I was hoping to feel more emotion from the story, especially since we’re talking a cult and missing sisters and such, I felt very little. I just wasn’t that invested emotionally, which was unfortunate.
Bottom Line: While it was entertaining and atmospheric, the predictability and lack of emotional connection left me wanting a bit more.
I have really enjoyed everything I have read by Kathryn Ormsbee. And I didn’t dislike this one, but it definitely isn’t my favorite of hers either. There are definitely some good points, and some that are… less so, so might as well break ’em down!
Things I Liked:
- The atmosphere and time period were fabulous! The 70s, punctuated by some eerie shenanigans, was quite the trip to read about! I mean, 1977 Kansas probably wasn’t the most exciting place to grow up, so an unexplained potential “end of days” has to shake things up. I definitely felt the vibe of both the time period and the ominousness of the events taking place.
- I enjoyed the mystery aspect, and wanted to know how it would unfold. I mean, what is happening here? And why? And what about everywhere else? Can it be stopped? Will it be stopped? So many questions, right? And I was quite eager to find out the answers, since I really didn’t have any idea where things were headed, which is another plus.
- The character growth was really well done. Stella really needed something to shake up her daily mundanity. She was stuck, let’s be honest, and she wasn’t going to become unstuck without some serious intervention. Galliard was stuck too, though I suppose in a more literal sense, considering he was in a cult. But they’re at a precipice when the book starts, and it’s clear that they’re going to have to decide what they want out of their lives.
- Speaking of the characters, I really enjoyed the family dynamics, especially within Stella’s family. Her sense of responsibility and duty warring with her own dreams and desires is all too common. I also loved the friendships that were presented during the book, and yes, eventually the romance!
Things That Sent Me Down a Research Hole:
- There is no such thing as 98.5 AM. Okay look obviously I am not going to factor this into my rating, but it drove me bananas, because 98.5 is an FM frequency. I searched many, many sites to make sure that back in the 70s, frequencies weren’t done differently, and my research seems to indicate that this distinction between AM and FM radio has been in practice in the US since the 1930s. If anyone has any different info, please share! Anyway it’s mentioned so many times in the book that I just couldn’t let it go, so here I am, perseverating on a tiny detail. ?♀️
Things I Didn’t Love:
- The “talking to dead musicians” is my least favorite trope in the history of books. Ugh I don’t even know why I loathe it so fully, I just know that it irks me and I can’t help it.
- I wanted the cult to be… cultier. The cult wasn’t actually all terrible? Which is not what I want from my cult! I wanted it to be a little more awful, I guess. Maybe some cults aren’t the worst, and this is some kind of… equal opportunity cult representation? I have no idea, but when I hear “cult”, I am hoping for dark and twisted, and it really wasn’t so much here.
- I didn’t feel as connected to the characters as I’d have liked. I liked the relationships and their struggles and development and such, but I just wanted to feel a little more of an emotional connection with them, and I didn’t.
- The end was a little underwhelming for me. I don’t think I necessarily had any particular expectations for how I wanted it to be, but it just felt a little easy, perhaps? Anyway, I don’t want to say anything else about that, for obvious reasons.
Bottom Line: Not bad, but not as epic as I’d expected. The friendships, family, and ambiance made it worth it, though.