Rebekah is an avid reader of fantasy for all ages, and enjoys world and non-Eurocentric fantasy the most (except when dragons are involved).
We Set the Dark On Fire
By Tehlor Kay Mejia (Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, Miss Meteor)
Tehlor Kay Mejia is a Mexican-American Oregon native and Queer author who is on a quest to create the perfect vegan tamale. She loves the landscapes of her native Oregon and is a self-proclaimed "soft forest goth." We Set the Dark on Fire (2019) is her debut novel and the first in a duology, followed by We Unleash the Merciless Storm (2020). Her middle grades project, Paola Santiago is a Rick Riordan Presents series, the first book having been released in 2020. She has co-authored one book, Miss Meteor, with Anna-Marie McLemore.
Narrated by Kyla García (I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, The Orphan's Tale, Meddling Kids)
Kyla García is a prolific narrator of books for all ages. She holds a BFA from Rutgers University and she wrote, produced, and starred in her one-woman stage show, The Woman Who Learned How to Fly, which was later adapted into an audiobook. She earned an Audie Award nomination and seven AudioFile Earphones awards. She seems most proud of her membership with Native Voices at the Autry Museum. Her most recent project is the spoken-word series Herstory 101 which is featured in BUST Magazine.
- young adult fantasy
- LGBT (f/f) romance
In a tradition older than time, Daniela Vargas and Carmen Santos have been trained to fulfill the roles of primera and segunda - the two wives of one of Medio's most eligible young bachelors. Since they were twelve years old, they have learned how to represent their respective roles as cunning primera and seductive segunda and how to play the games of Medio's political elite. Dani's hatred for Carmen is deep, and only deepens when they are selected as the co-wives of Mateo Garcia. On top of all that, Dani lives with a pressing secret; her papers are forged, and the rebellion group known as La Vox knows it. Suddenly Dani is thrust into a new game, one she was not prepared to play.
As Daniela becomes more entangled with La Vox and her unexpected life as a spy, she also finds herself entangled with the beautiful and seductive Carmen. But Dani is not meant for romance, is she? Is the heat rising between them real, or is Carmen playing at her own game, one of secrets even deeper than Daniela's? With La Vox watching her closely, threatening to expose the truth of her birthplace to the Garcia family, Dani must navigate her husband's ambitiousness, his mothers' suspicions, and her own uncertain heart. Who will earn Dani's loyalty, and at what price will that loyalty be paid? When it all goes up in flames, Dani must make her choice.
Mejia's debut novel is nothing if not bold and brilliant. In typical YA form, it throws Daniela into a world she is not prepared for, one in which she must take sides. Each action, each choice, comes with a series of consequences Dani cannot calculate. There were some aspects of the storytelling that I thought unfinished or not quite explained, pieces that I don't think are absolutely necessary, but would help me to better understand the world. Technology, to some extent, exists - cars, guns, wristwatches, and the like. Yet other small things, such as cosmetics, are explained in a more primitive fashion. There is no view of Medio on a global scale, either. The entirety of the setting centers on this one island country, not even a mention of outside countries or international connections. While the book is not lacking for detail and intriguing worldbuilding, I found the setting somewhat difficult to grasp. It is very much a character-driven novel. The political intrigue is definitely well developed, so I can give the soft worldbuilding a pass on that.
The single point of view through Dani's eyes, rather than alternating between two or more characters, made this a very straightforward read. I liked Dani as a character, I liked both her internal and external conflicts, and am glad the reader gets insight to her thoughts and feelings. On the outside, she is, as all primeras are, meant to be aloof and in control of her emotions. Without access to her inner thoughts, this would make her difficult to like. Because of the singular point of view, however, we don't get to see the other characters as highly developed. I felt the proper emotions towards each of the characters, mostly because I only was influenced by Daniela's perceptions. I hated Mateo, but as a reader, I would have loved to see more of him outside of Dani's gaze. I wanted to hate him for the right reasons and not feel like I'm supposed to hate him. In the same way, I wanted to know about Sota, the fox-like boy from La Voz, more than what Dani is able to show me.
The mythological origins of the world felt weak, too, as if they were added to support the reasoning for inner-islanders to have two wives. I believe the book's story would have been perfectly believable without the mythological reasoning behind the primera and segunda roles, and wondered why Mejia bothered to put it in place. There is no other use for it - so other than adding to the world's history, and that only slightly - I wondered why bother adding it at all.
Dani and Carmen's relationship was a key point of the book without being the central theme. I'm not one for romance tropes, so I prefer book relationships to not be the primary focus of what I'm reading. In Dani and Carmen's case, it was clearly an important issue, and I thought it was perfect. It felt natural without being lazy, and Dani and Carmen both still had their own ambitions and goals outside of one another (we don't see much of Carmen's until book 2, of course). There were no uninteresting characters in this book.
Over all, We Set the Dark on Fire had just enough of everything without making one aspect so much more important than any other, and the story was brilliantly executed. Personally, I think these two books would have made a fantastic standalone novel, with POV changes between a handful of characters, not just Dani's (or in the case of book 2, Carmen's). Or, read book 1 from Carmen's POV, and book 2 from Daniela's. Dear Tehlor Kay Mejia, if you're reading this, can you write two whole new companion novels and swap Daniela and Carmen's points of view?? Many thanks in advance!
About the Author/Narrator
- Tehlor Kay Mejia
Tehlor Kay Mejia, author, poet, editor.
- Queering the Revolution: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia | Tor.com
- Better Know an Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia | LGBTQ Reads
- Tehlor Kay Mejia creates a terrifyingly real world in her YA fantasy | Street Roots
The author discusses her latest novel, a queer, Latinx dystopian fantasy with Trump-era issues.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.