I will be honest: I am not into series right now. I genuinely didn’t know that this was going to be the opener of more than one novel (I just snagged it from the “available now” section of my library app after reading a short synopsis), so when the ending was approaching I just had a feeling I knew where it was going to lead: leaving things with that particular YA dystopian ending to lead you into act II. And while this book certainly kept my interest and developed its own lore amongst its contemporaries, I found the back half to be far less-engaging than the first.
We Set the Dark on Fire follows Dani, a girl who is about to graduate from the Medio School for Girls, where distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles: to be the ever logical, unemotional wife who runs the household (called a primera), or to be the emotional, caring child bearer to her husband (known as a segunda). High-class men in Media purchase the hand in marriage of two women for the family (one primera and one segunda) to be their wives and live in harmony with high-society, away from the political uprisings of the lower class and people along the border who are struggling to stay alive while the politicos live in luxury. Although Dani is the top of her class as a primera, she is finding it hard to keep her unemotional, logical mask on as she faces her new life as the wife to a top politicians son, as she and her family fled across the border and forged her identity in order for her to rise above her station and secure a better life. But is that was Dani wants, or what her parents want? And when approached by a member of a resistance group who wants her to be a spy for them, lest they reveal her true identity, Dani must now face the question of what she wants for not just herself, but for her country and people. Not to mention, the segunda of her new marriage arrangement is a girl named Carmen, who tormented Dani throughout their years together. How can they live in harmony when they have such an antagonistic history behind them already?
This novel is one of the many YA dystopian rebellion stories I’ve encountered in the past number of years, so it hits some similar beats to what I’ve read before. Adding the extra layer of the situation with the wives definitely added a new layer to the question, but was perhaps not explored with the same depth as the setup implied it was leading to within the first few chapters of the novel. That could be a whole story in itself, or at least have played a more juicy role throughout the novel rather than the simple bringing together of the characters for the conflict.
In itself, the setting of Media and it’s class issues and immigration are timely and topical, and I found Dani’s internal struggle to be important in capturing the conflict of mind between security for oneself and station versus what you have experienced in the past (perhaps a thinking of “I have struggled and don’t want to anymore after working my way out” versus “I have struggled and now don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I did”). Many of the other characters, however, fell flat for me, and seemed to be filling in a checklist of standby characters: a cruel but powerful husband, a charismatic rebel haunted by the terrible things he has seen, a badass rebellion henchwoman, the harsh and suspicious mother, the corrupt politician father, etc etc. And that’s before we get into everything with Carmen. I don’t want to give away her deal in the story, but I wasn’t exactly feeling what was being given with her. Such sharp flips in character and her relationships with different people.
So where does that leave this book for me? The conclusion came on with a bang and left on a cliff-hanger, and maybe that’s neither what I wanted or needed right now. While this book certainly made moves to set itself apart from the other YA dystopian fiction I have read, and included some welcome under-represented voices and characters, I don’t know that it grabbed me enough to continue with the rest of the story (a sentiment that is becoming very common for me, it seems).