Tell The Wind and Fire
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Release: April 5th 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, Retellings, YA
In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.
Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.
Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.
Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?
Celebrated author Sarah Rees Brennan tells a magical tale of romance and revolution, love and loss.
“Tell the Wind and Fire where to stop. But don't tell me.”
This novel is really hard for me to review, because there were certain aspects and certain scenes that I absolutely loved, and then there's the whole, general picture I am having of it, which is ... not so great.
Okay, let's just get the positive things out of the way first. The most striking and most important facet of this book, let me tell you, is the freaking writing. I've only read Brennan's Unspoken trilogy, which was full of well-written and sassy dialogue, but it wasn't really beautifully written. It didn't read like poetry. This one did. It was so, so wonderful, lyrical and pretty. Gorgeous, stunning. I am in love with all the quotes I gathered from this.
“I'm a force of nature too. You thought you were teaching me something else, to be something lesser. Try teaching fire to do anything but burn.”
“The dead drift away from us, like reflections in moving water, hardly seen before they are lost.”
Then, there's some aspects, I would very much like to call them feminist aspects if I may, that I really appreciated. Brennan spoke out on the matter through the voice of her heroine, and I was so damn here for it. And even though the three main characters were white, Lucie and her dad are taken in by a black family, and her best friend is a Muslim, which is representation I appreciated as well. When said best friend is accused of being her boyfriend's affair, Lucie doesn't immediately believe that and turn on her. She has faith that neither her significant other nor her best friend would betray her like that (spoiler: she is right to have that trust in them). Again, I am so here for that.
And then there's the heroine Lucie, whom I really liked at first, then my like for her kind of decreased a bit over the middle part, but ultimately, I did end up immensely enjoying her and her character development. There's one thing about her which gets really annoying pretty soon, and that is her constant self-deprecation. Telling herself she doesn't really deserve to be loved, constantly questioning Ethan's choice to stay with her, being convinced she's actually a liar and an all-around bad person and not giving any proof of this to the reader until like 40% through or something. However, she does get better. Especially towards the end, she has gotten so much more confident and determined about what she wants and is ready to do whatever it takes to fight for it, which was what ultimately saved her. Something else I really liked was the fact that she was the fucking realest. I can understand how some might see her as being a coward for not speaking up about her misdeeds and all that, but she was just being way smart. She knew how to play the game, and she won in the end because she kept her wits about her. Also, the way she confronts Ethan about being a pampered little baby. So, so good. Their relationship isn't portrayed as always being roses and sunshine, which is realistic and thus, I liked it.
However, and here's where I am drawing a blank on other good things to mention and where I have to semi-contradict myself. Even though their relationship does seem to have their highs and lows, I still didn't really like or "ship" them. Maybe because their romance doesn't actually get as much screen time as you'd expect and, as a result, I couldn't ever feel any chemistry or spark between them. I don't know, but Lucie and Ethan always talk about their big feelings of love for each other, but they never really show me anything for it. It wasn't believable up until maybe the last 20% where it's revealed that the both of them are actually doing stuff for each other to support that theory at all. That bugged me.
Even more so because I then tried shipping Lucie with Ethan's doppelgänger counterpart, Carwyn, but that didn't work out either. Because, as he is modeled after douchebag extraordinaire Sydney Carton from this novel's source material, A Tale of Two Cities, I really could not expect this relationship to turn out better. And it wasn't supposed to, I get that. Still, it irks me and at the same time, it was so necessary. Because Lucie's relationship with Carwyn is another aspect of the feminist side of the whole book, because Lucie gives him shit about touching her without her consent and so on. It was glorious and magnificent when she stood up to him, but it also made me cringe the whole time whenever she truly couldn't and he just did it anyway, blatantly disregarding her feelings and then confessing his love for her as if that were possible. I am not spoiling anything, as it should be pretty obvious from the get-go even if you have not read the source material, since this is standard YA love triangle procedure. Anyway, like I said, I am both mad and happy with this, which is infuriating in and of itself.
“Even though he had just been complaining about how Carwyn behaved, the way he behaved to me had to be all right. As if any attention paid to a girl was a compliment, and a compliment I should accept.”
(Not a quote directly related to the issue I raised above, but nonetheless a gem)
What else? Oh yeah, the world-building, which was close to non-existent. There's this new world of magic, with NYC being split up in the Dark and the Light city, and the Light being way more powerful and rich, ruling over the Dark while the Dark are starving and powerless. It was a cool concept and I know Brennan was trying to recreate the French revolution with this set-up, but it was just never executed or explained very well. Apparently, somewhere in our future, magic was discovered out of nowhere and it changed the world as we knew it. The result is a semi-futuristic, semi-medieval state of things, with guards being posted all over the city and they have old-fashioned swords (and aren't called simply "the police"), yet there's still cell phones and lush hotels as well. Usually, I love this fusion of old and modern, but it never made any sense for this setting and it was disregarded so much. I was simply supposed to swallow it and accept it. I really wish Brennan had done more on this front, even if it had been an info dump or something else, because there was so much more potential in the world-building.
Then, something that ties in closely with the above mentioned fact, is the way this novel is so reminiscent of A Tale of Two Cities. No, I get it, it's a retelling, yes. It's supposed to show similarities and parallels, but if you ask me, there were too many of those. A good retelling should take aspects and themes of the source material and twist something new out of them, something original and other, but the only thing Brennan added/changed was her new world of Light and Dark magic and that she made Lucie more of a proactive heroine. That's literally all she did. And that was just ... not enough, at least not for me. Especially since, as a result of this, I already knew how the ending would turn out from page 1, since I have read A Tale of Two Cities. It took any and all suspense the story had to offer and maybe it's because of this fact that the pace seriously took a hit as well, with the middle part being extremely dull and slow.
All in all, this certainly wasn't a bad book by any means. The first chapter immediately hooks you in and raises your interest, but I wish it would have kept doing that over the course of the whole novel. Everything that comes afterwards just continues to make the book lose its shine and glamour more and more, with each passing page, which I'm sorry to say. I really expected more from this book and from Brennan, and I have to say that I am indeed disappointed with how it turned out.
I'll end this review with a quote that combines both the beautiful writing I adored and the portrayal of the heroine that I adored:
“Good people are always ready to die for a good reason. It's only people like me who say, Yes, I want to live. Yes, at any cost.”