So, if you’re a YA reader, you’ve probably come across some of Sarah Rees Brennan’s stuff before – The Demon’s Lexicon, The Lyburn Legacy, The Bane Chronicles. I have only read book one of The Demon’s Lexicon series, and – to be honest – I forgot that I had read it until I went on Goodreads to post this book’s review and mark everything of hers as TBR. In my review of that book I mentioned that the author had created interesting characters, even if I wasn’t completely sold on the world in which they lived. Turns out, I have similar feelings about her newest book, Tell the Wind and Fire.
Set in a dystopian world were there’s Light magic and Dark magic, and a corresponding city for each, Tell the Wind and Fire plays on Dickens’ Tales of Two Cities from it’s opening line. Like Dickens novel, there’s both an undercurrent (and then an all out portrayal) of revolution, and what that truly means to the people living through it. There’s a duality of darkness and light that doesn’t just come from magic, but from how those who live in each city are treated, how they are allowed to live, how they are ruled, how they are free. And the setting and plot and all of that are quite interesting, but for me – the characters are this story.
Really, just the main character: Lucie, who was born to Light magicians (illegally) in the Dark city, and who’s a Light magician herself. Who represents all of the duality of the two cities, within one person. Lucie, who’s busy trying to keep her head down and stay out of trouble, after causing so much trouble as a child that she nearly started a revolt. Lucie, who just wants things to be easy, but knows that that isn’t her life. Lucie, who knows that not even obeying the rules will keep her safe, but struggles to do it just the same, in the hopes of keeping those she loves safe. Lucie, the icon, the symbol, the never-innocent: “An icon didn’t do anything of its own volition. A symbol didn’t act of its own accord. Both cities projected what they wanted onto me, and wanted me to stay still as they did it.” Lucie, who might tell herself – in a million different ways – how much smarter it is to sit down and shut up, but never quite seems to manage it.
I mean there’s also a rich boy/poor boy doppleganger storyline, but since I can’t remember if that’s from A Tale of Two Cities or The Prince & The Pauper, or both, I’m just going to say that it’s powerful in unexpected ways – what it means to be human, for one – and that whatever she was tipping her hat to, Ms. Rees Brennan did it with style.
Sure, there’s some cliched, trope-y stuff going on, and there-in lay the drawbacks to trying to meld your own version of a very familiar story into something new and unique, but I think the author accomplishes it boldly: Yes, I was never surprised by what was happening, but I’m not sure she meant any of the plot twists to be surprises, either. I think she shines a light on things that are happening in our world right now (whether she meant to or not), that are – and should be – hard to turn a blind eye to. I think, even given it’s weaknesses, that the characters are appealing (although I’ve seen some disagreement about that online, now that I’m looking: I think a lot of their criticisms have merit, but I also think Lucie is exactly the kind of heroine that gets misunderstood a lot: weakness and confusion are human, not signs of stupidity, in my book.), and the story was troubling enough to still have me thinking about it every time a certain politician gets his ugly mug on my TV screen (which happens much too often for my liking).
“It was like being in the teachers’ lounge at school, staring around in startled amazement that those in authority were just people, flesh and blood and often boring, just as likely to be stupid or wrong as anybody else. And yet these people held all our fates in their hands.”
I think if you don’t think teenagers ought to read interesting books about how revolutions happen and how differences can be built up into prejudices, which can be used against even the best of us, then we probably weren’t going to agree on a lot of what we’re reading, anyway, and you won’t care that I liked this more than most other online reviewers seemed to. That’s OK: it may not be your cup of (startlingly strong and frankly terrifying in it’s honesty) tea, but it was mine.
Also, this book isn’t out until April, so thank you NetGalley for my advanced copy. Also, also: if you have Tumblr, Sarah Rees Brennan has a pretty great tumblr herself, if you’re interested.