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.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Clarion Books (April 5, 2016)
Length: 368 pages
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.