BOOK REVIEW: WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE BY TEHLOR KAY MEJIA

Summary:

  • published by: Katherine Tegan Books
  • genres: fantasy, lgbt+ fiction
  • content warnings: government-sanctioned violence (murder of protestors), allusions to rape and sexual violence, misogyny, bombings
  • Read if you liked: The Handmaids Tale, Girls of Paper and Fire

Synopsis:

37868569. sy475 At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

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“I just need to get out of here. I’m doing what I have to do to survive. I’m not signing up to set things on fire.”


This book was chosen by my twitter followers as my book to read in November and I actually ended up enjoying it A LOT more than I thought I would

We Set the Dark on Fire is a wlw, latinx inspired YA fantasy that incorporates modern-day political concerns, especially those emerging in the Trump era, and explores poverty, sexuality, misogyny and race and how these identities intersect. It is comparable to works like The Handmaids Tale or Girls of Paper and Fire – but is also distinct from these, primarily in how it more strongly deals with politics, protest and the impacts of poverty and race. While this did feel familiar in many ways and wasn’t outstandingly original, I also think it stood apart from these other works and had something new to say.

We follow Daniela Vargas, who is graduating from the Medio School for Girls at the start of the novel. This school trains women to be the wives of important political men, a tradition originating from a cultural folktale that says the salt god required two women for his wives and further, that the people who live beyond the borders of the Salt God’s realm are of lower importance and value to society.

While many of the elements are familiar, such as the heteronormative and sexist society, and the ideas of ‘women as submissive and subservient’, I do think this book tries to do something new.

First, the incorporation of an f/f romance subverts the expectation of the romance and is posited as a form of protest against the patriarchal, sexist society. The protest and the resistance are also much more active here and I really liked how protest and resistance are such a large part of this book. Finally, many of the ideas and themes can easily be linked to contemporary political concerns. One of the main villains wishes to build a wall in between the inner city and the outer borders, the book deals with sexism and misogyny that infuses contemporary politics and poverty and how it links to race and class is a central tenet of the book.

“In a battle between two men trying to control her, she’d chosen herself.”


My favourite part of this was the inclusion of the resistance and the f/f romance between Carmen and Dani. At the start of the book, Daniela is blackmailed into becoming a double agent working for the resistance. I really liked the political intrigue the inclusion of this group gave, and it was what surprised me. While I expected this to be ‘woman deals with her horrible sexist husband for 400 pages’, it was much more about Dani becoming embroiled with the resistance and the politics of that group.

I also LOVED the relationship between Carmen and Dani, it’s a slow burn and is so satisfying. The girls have a lot of chemistry and they’re so sweet and I loved the development of their relationship throughout the whole book. The next book is from Carmen’s POV AND I CANNOT WAIT. This is one of my favourite f/f ships I’ve read in a while, I was literally yelling in my car in some of their scenes.

“On the outside, she was frozen, but inside her, whole cities were being razed to the ground. Explosions were shaking the walls of her stomach. People were screaming in her throat.”

This book definitely wasn’t as intense or pulse-pounding as it could have been. There’s some good political tension and mystery elements but sections and reveals were a little predictable. I did like it for how it drew out the political threads, but some of the scenes that were supposed to be nail-biters didn’t hit it for me.

I also thought the writing was a bit corny at times. Some of the metaphors and similes used were a bit … strange. I thought sometimes the author was trying too hard to make something sound pretty and she just ended up using some words that don’t actually mean anything. It wasn’t horrible, I just noticed a few too many times something being likened to something else that didn’t make sense.

“You have a big heart, a strong mind, and you will find a way to make a life you love. No matter how different it is from the one you left.”


We Set the Dark on Fire has a lot of elements that might tempt people to give it a miss. The sexist/heteronormative world and the ‘Handmaids Tale’ elements might be something people are growing tired of. However, I do think this is worth the read. It deals with a wide array of issues and presents new perspectives on these issues. It does more to be intersectional and explores more issues, especially class and poverty. It also has a central f/f romance that is amazing and includes more ‘plot’ in the resistance/political machinations and a more active main character than some similar works.

I am so glad I gave this a chance. I really enjoyed it more than I thought I would and I can’t wait for the sequel

until next time!

sign off


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