We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire #1) by Tehlor Kay Mejia (2019)
YA Fiction | Fantasy | Dystopia
“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. Both paths promise 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 pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.
And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, 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 will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?”
pooled ink Review
Oh what to say, what to say…
Well, to sum things up I was disappointed and the fact that this was on a list of top 2019 releases has me, well, a touch annoyed. So, um, forgive me but this review quickly devolves into a rant. Oops. It’s pretty typical of me though to let my emotions get carried away haha. Anyway, let’s being with the positives!
Things I liked!
The cover is pretty cool and exciting with its Day of the Dead flair and I also really liked how the world-building in this book is strongly influenced by latin culture. Spanish is part of the language, the characters, and very fabric of the world in this book and I thought that was pretty cool. But that’s really the only thing I liked about this book unfortunately.
This book opens with a myth about the sun god, the moon goddess, and a princess. I did like how the book is founded on a unique creation myth but I thought the sun god was a greedy toddler (you can’t have your cake and eat it too you a-hole) and therefore wasn’t really a fan of the myth itself (although perhaps in someway that’s part of the point the book is making). Tying into this…The whole two wives thing is just not my cup of tea. Like I get it and how it fits with the mythology in the prologue but, meh, not my cup of tea.
Perhaps my biggest issue with this book however is that it is SLOW AF. There’s too much background info and memories and thoughts and emotions and not enough action, especially in the beginning, and it makes things seriously drag. By the last 50 pages or so the pace finally seemed to be picking up for the story to end on a lackluster “cliff-hanger”. But it seemed as if Dani could barely go a few pages without pausing the plot to go on and on about how confused she is or about some childhood memory or about how conflicted she is, etc. And it all felt so repetitive which just made it worse! Rather than make me sympathize for Dani and the truly difficult position she is in I just grew annoyed, bored, and unattached. And the moment I stopped caring about Dani I stopped caring about what was going on in the book as well which made this a real challenge to finish. It honestly would’ve been a DNF for me but it’s the book club pick for this month so I forced myself.
As expected there is a romantic plot line woven in and it had its moments but the start was a bit annoying to me. It was just too quick for my taste. Dani only just finds out that Carmen feels bad for betraying and bullying her for the past 5 years and now suddenly she can’t keep her eyes off of her?? Blah. No. Also the romance is of course another tool for creating tension and upping the stakes that Dani faces but the big emotional blow up at the end of the book was dull because Carmen’s big reveal was predictable from so early on. Dani kept marking the clues and yet never put them together. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea in theory, I just think it could’ve been executed better.
Mateo, the husband of Carmen and Dani, is a cruel, egotistical child. He’s obviously the worst but I’m hoping there will be more to him. Otherwise he really is just a two-dimensional villain character and that’s boring.
I didn’t like the rebel group La Voz. Not sure why but they irked me (most rebel groups in books irk me though haha they just come across as so entitled even if they are fighting for good things). The protest scene really showed what a horrible human I am though. It’s awful of me but I laughed and called them idiots…because they were lol. Their protest idea was a good one to a point but they forgot who they’re up against and that is an enemy who doesn’t care. In a way the author made the mistake of creating a villainous government so unfeeling and vile that these blatant displays of resistance were foolish and a much more delicate, and slow long con should’ve been engaged. So rather than get sucked in by the emotional speeches La Voz was making to the people at their protest I ended up rolling my eyes at the clever counterstrike the officers made because of course they’re not just going to let this happen and they were fools for thinking they would. Maybe someone who heard will still believe them, might even reach out, but fear and comfort are powerful tools and the government wields them with expertise. For this type of whole-heartedly corrupt system to crumble one should consider the tactics in The Purification Era series by Angie Grigaliunas. It’s slower but far more clever and it will actually work.
And finally onto the main character: Dani.
Dani is SO ANNOYING. I know she’s had a sad and horrible childhood and has lived her whole life in fear with her forged documents but somehow the way it came across was more annoying and pathetic and confused than strong, determined, and brave. She goes on and on thinking about what she wanted and wants and being so confused and helpless about it all but ugh that’s so dumb. Dani, you are not helpless! You can’t change what is so quit pining after things with cold feet and instead use your position as a Primera to cause change if you want change so badly. I think part of what drove me nuts was how she kept bristling at how sexist her husband is and how she knows she’s such a smart and resourceful woman and yet at the same time acts like she’s powerless. Primeras can be just as influential as their husbands if they’re smart, subtle, and can play their cards right. I didn’t feel as if there was really a defining moment that swayed Dani one way or another rather she just kept moaning about how she didn’t know what to do and eventually drooling over Carmen, the same Carmen who once made her life miserable, and sort of ended up tumbling into the ploys of La Voz.
So apologies for this not so much a review as a rant post but I felt how I felt. I didn’t like the characters, the players/teams, the weird marriage thing, but I did love the open and liberal expression of latin culture in this dystopian novel. Have I been reading too many YA dystopian novels? Was I just in the wrong mood when I read this book? I don’t know. But regardless of my rant I hope that if you do decide to pick this one up that you genuinely enjoy it and call me crazy. I’ve said it before, every book deserves someone to love it and sing its praises for all to hear.
Purchase Here: We Set the Dark on Fire
Meet Tehlor Kay Mejia!
Tehlor Kay Mejia is a YA author and poet at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media.