Joint Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Tell-the-Wind-and-Fire-Sarah-Rees-Brennan

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: April 5th 2016 by Clarion Books
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books

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 the young men’s deadly connection, 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? — [X]

Writing

Nafiza: It’s Sarah Rees Brennan so of course the writing flows like silk. I had no problems with it and in fact, the writing brought home to me just how much I like Brennan’s style.

Yash: This was an interesting experience for me. I’ve read (and loved) every piece of writing that Sarah Rees Brennan has ever published, but the only Charles Dickens I’ve ever read is half of David Copperfield for university (begrudgingly) and a bunch of illustrated, abridged stuff as a kid. But even though I only have fuzzy memories of A Tale of Two Cities–which is the source material for Tell the Wind and FireI do feel like Brennan’s writing was a little different, enveloping bits of Dickens’ story and style into her own. And you get a flavour for this blend of styles right from the first line: “It was the best of times until it was the worst of times.” The end result, as Nafiza says, flows like silk.

Characters

Nafiza: Okay yes, I had a few problems with the characters. I did not like Lucie. I think she’s intended as a sort of grey less-intense flavour of Adelina (Marie Lu) but I feel like for me the justifications she makes for her actions are not strong enough. Obviously this is an opinion and just because I felt so doesn’t make it so. I like stronger female characters and while Lucie does show a kind of strength, that strength appeared a bit too late and…well, I’ll talk about this later.

Yash: I actually loved Lucie. She is so very different from Brennan’s heroines–not that that’s surprising, Brennan writes diverse female characters like no one’s business–but more importantly, she is a much more interesting Lucie than the one I remember from Dickens. Obviously I liked that she had a voice, which I don’t think she got in the original text, but mostly I liked that even though her life wasn’t exactly perfect, she knew it could get a lot, lot worse. And that knowledge kept her doing whatever it took to keep herself alive and happy. Throughout the novel people (and I think this includes us readers) keep expecting Lucie to be something she is not–a revolutionary, a tragic victim, a naive child, a saviour–but what she is from start to finish is a girl who is trying to true to herself, someone who survives. My issue is that I think I enjoyed the supporting cast of characters too much for me to fully invest emotionally in Lucie and Ethan. Seriously, Nadiya was just too cool. She out-cooled everyone else. Even Carwyn. Sorry Carwyn my sweet.

Magic System

Nafiza: The magic system in this book is fantastic and I seriously enjoyed how the light and dark magic feed off each other. I’m sure Yash will have a lot more to say about this.

Yash: I also really enjoyed the light and dark magic systems. It started off feeling too rigid and binary, but then we start getting some of the messy, shadowy details. I loved it. I also liked how we get the information about the magic system–in bursts and in keeping with the pace of the novel. The exposition wasn’t boring at all and, honestly, I feel like I could have read a good hundred more pages on the history of the magic system in New York and the rest of the world.

Miscellaneous

Nafiza: The novel has a lot of similarities with The Hunger Games particularly in its construction of the protagonist and the manipulations of people via the media to further certain goals or ambitions. However, it does not quite work for me. Perhaps this is because The Hunger Games is stretched through three books and the reader has time to get acquainted with the world and the moralities of the people populating the world while Tell the Wind and Fire is a standalone with a lightning fast pace and not a lot of development while side characters and the world is concerned. I would have liked to see the landscape a bit more clearly than is described in the book. I also would have liked to know more about both cities. I didn’t get a sense of each place simply because the pacing is that fast. I found the romance confused and didn’t know who to fangirl for though thankfully Lucie never wavers–though I wished she would. I just thought there was a lot of potential for a more nuanced conflict than we got.

Yash: I actually don’t think it’s similar to The Hunger Games. I think it’s similar to any revolution where it feels like two distinct groups are having it out for each other and some people in either faction seem larger than life to onlookers. Lucie, for many, is that larger than life icon. Except, reading the novel from her perspective forces you to confront the fact that she is just human sized, like us and is doing her best, like us. I also really loved that this is a stand-alone (even though I wish it were longer) and that we sort of dive into the world, mid-action. Sometimes, in real life, it feels like too many things are happening and you are just one person and how do you even deal–that’s what the book felt like. It was realistic and difficult and very, very fast. I liked that experience. It was unusual, but not bad at all.

Why You Wouldn’t Like It

Nafiza: It was difficult for me to suspend my disbelief completely which was crucial if the ending is to be believed. I cannot say more without spoiling the book but while I did appreciate the character constructions, I didn’t find the characters particularly compelling. I also did not actually like how the novel ended and was not particularly keen on some of the choices the characters made.

Yash: The issue with any adaptation is where and how the new text strikes a balance between telling and retelling. I think the text would have benefited from a few bold departures from the original text, and bold is something Brennan does extremely well! Also, I agree with Nafiza when she says that the side-characters did not get the chance to shine (and I’d like to emphasize how good Brennan’s characters are) so it’s a bit sad. That said, I do think it’s a good adaptation of a Dickens novel. It’s just that if you want to start reading your first Brennan book–and I highly recommend you do–I’d probably suggest starting with Unspoken or Turn of the Story.

Why You Would Like It

Nafiza: There are many reasons to like this. I am not at all familiar with the source material for this retelling but if you’re a fan of Dickens, you may like reading this adaptation to see what has changed and how. The story is very self-aware. While I did have issues with Lucie’s character as I said previously, I did like that she is not idealistic. She has interesting, if bleak, way of thinking. Her inner monologues sometimes war with her youth until you realize that she has experienced a lot more than one would expect a person her age. You may like this if you’re in the market for a paranormal tale that marries magic to media.

Yash: Nafiza is right. MANY reasons. If you like Dickens and also fantasy, this one is definitely for you. Actually, if you, like me, don’t like Dickens, I’d still recommend this one. If you’re looking to read a heroine who is introverted and introspective, yes, Lucie is for you. If you’re hoping to read a novel about humans who are heroic, instead of heroes who are only sometimes human, look no further. Plus, I think Nafiza and I made our feelings on the fantasy side of things quite clear? Also, it’s Sarah Rees Brennan, you guys! This means that even as you’re choking back tears, the characters are doing/saying something that is sure to make you let out a watery laugh. So, um, definitely pick this up … just try not to read on transit?

Memorable Quotes

An icon didn’t do anything of its own volition. A symbol didn’t act of its own accord. Both cities projected what they wanted onto me, and wanted me to stay still as they did it. 

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I had made the decision long ago; better to be safe than good.

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That was television: if you had a woman’s body, you were expected to show it off. But they were making a mistake … Audiences believed children’s words. They did not believe the words of women. Just having this body made me suspect. Putting it on display was even worse. 

  • Oh good, I am glad you mentioned that non-Dickens people can also still enjoy this! I have it on my Nook and am looking forward to it; I tore through Brennan’s Unverbed trilogy last year so I’m definitely up for more books by her.

    • I haven’t read the source material and I wasn’t too much at sea. The adaptation is pretty much its own work.