YA Weekend: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tell the Wind and FireTell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Clarion Books (April 5, 2016)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Well, it wasn’t the best of books, it wasn’t the worst of books, but for me Tell the Wind and Fire can only be summed up as underwhelming. I think like most, I came to this novel after hearing that it was inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities—not that I have any great love for that book, or Dickens for that matter, but it was the idea that initially intrigued me and drew me in.

What we end up with is a very loose retelling, infused with a smattering of fantasy elements and a generous dose of Young Adult dystopian tropes. The story takes place in New York, which has been split in two: the Light City and the Dark City. The two are separate but symbiotic; each side reluctantly needs the other, for balance and for survival. Our protagonist is Lucie Manette, a Light magic user who was born of a forbidden union between a Dark magician and a Light magician. A child of the shadows and destitution of Dark City, she came to the comfort and luxury of the Light after her father was punished for trying to save her mother, and Lucie was subsequently made into a symbol by those in power.

Now living a life of fame and opulence, Lucie has also claimed the heart of Ethan Stryker, heir to one of Light City’s most powerful families. When the book starts though, Lucie stumbles upon a shocking secret about her boyfriend, discovering that Ethan has a doppelganger named Carwyn. Doppelgangers are illegal because they are a product of dark magic when it is used to save a person’s life, after which the dark energy manifests itself as a perfect double of the person. Usually doppelgangers are killed soon after they come into being, but Ethan’s soft-hearted mother had insisted on sparing Carwyn and raising him in secret, after dark magic saved the newborn Ethan at the time of his birth. But now Lucie knows the truth too, and that knowledge might ultimately lead her to her downfall. As rebellion erupts in Dark City, Lucie may have inadvertently handed the bloodthirsty revolutionaries their most important weapon.

To be fair, in spite of some of the more obvious parallels to Dickens’ masterpiece, I stress the “loose” in loose retelling and in the end Tell the Wind and Fire is an entirely different beast. In truth, the book probably has more in common with the countless YA offerings out there than anything to do with A Tale of Two Cities, which makes me wonder if the author had tweaked the book some more and perhaps titled it something different, then maybe it could have been spared the crushing pressure of being compared to one of the most well-known and celebrated classics ever written? Granted, there were some parts in the story that I really liked, those which didn’t immediately strike me as a YA cliché or too formulaic, but that too presented its own unique set of problems. For example, if I’d never read A Tale of Two Cities, I might actually have been delighted and bowled over at the analogous ending in Tell the Wind and Fire…but then again, how could I bring myself to praise these “unique” aspects of the story when the ideas were originally Dickens’? It just feels like a no-win situation all around.

For every positive thing I liked about this novel, there would also be something else I didn’t care for, dampening my enthusiasm. On the one hand, I loved the magic system and was enchanted by the descriptions of the way light and dark magic coexisted, always in motion and fighting and feeding off one another. On the other hand, for such a vast and major city which has the added benefit of having two sides to it, the version of New York City in this book felt painfully small. Then there was the character of Lucie. For a young woman with such fame and magical power, her role as main protagonist was disappointingly passive. This girl seems to only take action when she shouldn’t, and yet stands idly by with her mouth shut when she should. Not only is she constantly acting like a dolt, she feels the need to point it out every single time she makes a mistake, drawing even more attention to her shortcomings as if readers need the extra help. We really don’t.

Overall, I thought Tell the Wind and Fire started strong and had an excellent introduction to the magic of this world, but things started going downhill after the first half. I applaud the book for its ambitious goals, but there were clear issues in the implementation those ideas, leading to an imperfect outcome. While it’s not all bad, I can only give this one a middling rating due to all the other issues that didn’t sit well with me.


Mogsy 2


21 Comments on “YA Weekend: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

  1. This sounds good to me now. I love good magic systems and I like the doppelganger idea. If only the main character wasn’t such a dolt! I haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities, so maybe it will be better for me. (I know, it’s sad.) Nice review as always!


  2. Wow! The reviews for this one have just been ALL over the place with my bookish friends but you’re right that most people seem to have lots of issues with it. I was initially interested because of the NYC setting and the light and dark sides but now I don’t think I’ll bother. Too many other books to get to 😉


    • Yes, I didn’t look at the reviews on Goodreads until I was finished and I guess it makes me feel better that I’m not the only one with mixed feelings about this book. Seems like a lot of negative reviews!


  3. I tend to agree it might have been better if the author had not had any but a passing resemblance to Dickens. Trying to rewrite such a classic really is a no win situation, in my opinion.


    • Right! It’s one thing to retell a fairy tale and I think you get a lot more room to play around with your artistic liberties, but it’s another to tackle a classic like A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. You can’t really stray too far and risk defeating your original purpose, but at the same time, you’ve chosen a very well known classic and there will be consequences.


  4. *ouch*
    It sounds as if the good and bad of this book do more than balancing each other out, since they seem to amount to very little… It’s a pity, because the premise sounds interesting, the kind of premise that with a little more courage could have been turned into something solid…


  5. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Dickens before. He’s one of the classic authors I eventually need to get around to reading one of their books for.

    The world building in this book does sound interesting. I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t really work out all that well for you. 😦


  6. I really don’t like when YA protagonist are stupid people are allowed to make mistakes because it’s normal, t to be repeatedly dumb is just annoying a hell to read about… I won’t be reading this one because life is too short to read bad books (or even meh ones)!


  7. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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