Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan is the first book I've read by this author. She's one I've been meaning to get around to for ages — I even have one of her earlier books on my TBR shelf — and when a NetGalley promotion for this one landed in my inbox, I thought, Why not? Well, actually, first I thought "Buh?" because the blurb in the spam and the blurb on NetGalley were not very helpful. The Goodreads blurb, below, at least tells us a bit of what the book's about.

Tell the Wind & Fire is about a young girl called Lucie who lives in a New York very different from the New York we know: the city is torn between two very different kinds of magic, and Lucie’s own family was torn apart years ago by that conflict. Lucie wears magic rings and carries a burden of guilt she can’t share with anyone.

The light in her life is her sweetheart boyfriend Ethan, but it turns out Ethan has a secret too: a soulless doppelganger created by dark magic, who has to conceal the face identical to Ethan’s with a hood fastened by a collar nobody but a Light magician with magical rings can take off… and who introduces himself to both of them by, for reasons nobody can understand, saving Ethan’s life…

The first thing you should know about this book that isn't in any blurbs is that it's riffing off A Tale of Two Cities. Which I haven't read but really should have realised from the opening line (which of course I recognised), but didn't for longer than I care to admit. The two cities in this book, rather than London and Paris, are both New York; a New York separated into the Light and the Dark and rarely the twain shall meet. The time period is alternate near future, I think. A lot of things were the same and technology wasn't much advanced other than involving magic. But it's not like magic was an especially recent discovery.

I quite liked Lucie, the main character. She was born in the Dark and had a crappy life until when she was 14ish and got herself and her father out into the Light. Now she has a reasonably good life with a boyfriend that loves her and safety, something she grew up lacking. Of course, everything falls apart in the opening chapter and the life Lucie thought was safe suddenly isn't. What I particularly liked about Lucie is that she's a survivor. Except for when she's actively trying to save someone she loves, Lucie spends most of her time focussing on surviving. Which isn't to say she doesn't do anything questionable, but she does try to make sure she is keeping the people with power over her happy. When several spanners are thrown into the works and people she cares about are in danger, she does the best she can.

I found the first part of the book steady-paced but not unputdownable. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't entirely sure what was going on or where the story was going. The last part (the last third or so, I think) was more exciting and with higher stakes. I had more difficulty putting it down at that point but, interestingly, I also found the story more predictable. I suppose I also liked the negative portrayal of the revolution. Lucie can see that the revolutionaries have a point, but the means they use to reach their end prevent them from being too sympathetic, which is a viewpoint I can get behind.

So I enjoyed Tell the Wind and Fire. Possibly my two least favourite things about it were the blurbs (so confusing) and the title, which makes sense eventually, but not the first time the phrase appears in the book. My favourite aspect was Lucie and the way in which her relationship with her boyfriend was an established part of the story. That is, they had already been dating for two years and, while the story gave them a bumpy ride, it was not about romance or relationship drama. I don't think we see enough of that, especially not in YA.

I recommend Tell the Wind and Fire to readers of YA who are interested urban fantasy, revolutions and stories of oppression. It's not the most formulaic or trope-ridden of YA books (unless riffing off Dickens is a trope) and, actually, I wasn't entirely sure it was YA until school was mentioned (another thing the blubs could've made clearer). I certainly intend to read more Sarah Rees Brennan books when I get around to it.

4 / 5 stars

First published: April 2016, Clarion Books
Series: No.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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