Tell the Wind and Fire

Tell the Wind and Fire - Sarah Rees Brennan

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A retelling of Dickens's “A Tale of Two Cities”, with a futuristic and urban-fantasy twist: the two cities are the two halves of New York, Light and Dark, divided according the type of magic their respective citizens can wield. Light magic for healing, for dazzling, for fighting in the name of what is “good”, through the use of bejeweled rings. And Dark magic, feeding on blood and death, but necessary nonetheless because only a Dark mage can save a Light one when the latter finds themselves poisoned by the build-up of their own power, cristallised in their veins. And in the middle of this, the dopplegangers, always born to the Dark, and cursed to die young, bearing the faces of whose people they saved by simply being created, thus taking their misery upon them.

Lucie Manette used a to be a citizen of the Dark, until her mother vanished and her father got jailed, ending up so traumatised he cannot function properly some days. After Lucie devised a plan to make him escape, they went to live with a couple of friends in Light New York, and that's where she discovered another kind of life: one where she could be close to powerful people, one where she found love with Ethan Stryker, handsome and heir to a brilliant future.

As a retelling, I thought this worked surprisingly well in some ways: the story followed quite a few of the themes of the original one. The torn family escaping a tumultuous place and finding refuge in an apparently more peaceful one. The motif of the “double”, dealt with here with the dopplegangers—Carwyn is obviously Sydney, and his reputation as “depraved” comes from his being a doppleganger, with all the rumours about them (they have no souls, they're born from death, etc.). The mistaken identity. The love triangle (because there is a love triangle in Dickens's novel, so even though I usually don't care for them, at least here it was to be expected as a motif, too). Lucie as the narrator, yet still used as a symbol, still considered as the girl to be paraded, so to speak. Sacrifice and “doing what's right”. I found those themes, and was glad to see them, and at the same time to see how different the plot had turned out.

On the other hand, quite a few things contributed to making this book not work for me. The characters, for starters, rather weak and underdeveloped. For most of the story, Ethan was the bland cookie-cutter nice boyfriend without much of a personality. Carwyn was snarky and all, but it was difficult to get a real feeling for who he was, and I admit that mostly what I ended up with were my memories of the character of the original novel, as a trope rather than a person. Lucie... Lucie was supposedly strong, but she kept making stupid decisions that I couldn't understand, not in a character who was supposed to be “street-savvy”. Stupid upon stupid decisions, and for someone who had spent two years navigating a different world, and the years before surviving in the Dark, she was definitely bordering on the too stupid to live variety, in spite of her magic and the way she perceived herself (she does acknowledge when she makes a bad decision... afterwards—and then promptly makes another one). This character was baffling, really, and every time she made me think she was strong, she immediately destroyed that by doing something stupid again. (And what about going to such lengths to save her father, then never talking to her family in the Dark? It didn't seem like they had done anything wrong...)

The plot was also slow-paced, a bit confusing at first, relying on a few chapters of info-dumping to make the setting clear. I'd say about half to two thirds of the story were somewhat boring, The last 30% made the novel more interesting again, however the ending felt too open (I don't know if there'll be a second installment, if this is a standalone novel or the beginning of a series). The situation in both cities isn't solved. What happens to Lucie and her beloved ones isn't solved either, and could go wrong in so many ways that we could do with an epilogue or an additional chapter. Lucie's status as a symbol isn't made clear either: will other people let her stand up for what she believes in, or will she be discreetly smothered in a corner after a while? After all, she said it herself: “the Golden Thread in the Dark” (not a fan of this tile, by the way, however it echoes well Lucie's hair in AToTC) was a child, pure and innocent, but once the child becomes a woman, people start perceiving her differently, and the image she projects is different, too...

Last but not least, the typical “pocket-world syndrome” often found in dystopian stories. New York is clearly not the only place where people can use Light and Dark magic (trains go to other places outside of the city, for instance), but there's never any mention of another type of government than the Light council, no mention of other cities, no National Guard or whatever to intervene when the revolution starts, and so on. It's like Light & Dark New York are the only cities left on Earth, or as if the rest of the world doesn't care, won't do anything, won't even turn an eye on its problems. I always find this odd.

All in all, it *was* an interesting retelling in several ways, and a darker kind of YA as well, but fell short of what I thought it could've been.