Monday, September 15, 2014

"Trial by Fire" by Josephine Angelini -- Review.


*Side note: During the process of writing my review of this book, it started to get complicated and confusing. I don’t want to scare you away from reading this book. It’s really great—and well-written, like I imagine everything by Josephine Angelini will be because she is fabulous.  So please don’t be scared by my review. : ) *

"Trial by Fire" is about a girl named Lily Proctor who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She and her best friend Tristan are working on taking their relationship to the next level (AKA--they made out) when something embarrassing and emotional happens and Lily decides to be swept into another world. I say "decided" because she did. If you have already read this book, your might argue and say she was tricked, but she wasn't. As Lillian said, she couldn't take her against her will.

The world that Lily gets taken to is best described as our world if the Salem witches had a.) been actual witches and capable of magic, and b.) come out on top during the Witch Trials. As someone who is OBSESSED with the Salem Witch Trials, I was pretty pumped about this thought and premise. One thing I did not enjoy is that this idea, or really the major difference between the two worlds isn't made known. It is hinted at, but the characters focus on characteristics that are because of this major change--for example the lack of nuclear power, pollution, etc.

Before I get too far into the actual book review, I want to briefly discuss the cover and dust jacket on this book. I absolutely love Angelini’s “Starcrossed” series, I know I’ve said it before, but I love this series so much that I own a fan t-shirt for it, so, I’m committed. But I had an inkling of worry when I saw the cover for “Trial by Fire”. This cover is really nice looking, I mean, it’s interesting. There’s a castle, and fire, and a girl. With fire being the title, it’s not hard to figure out why they put fire on the cover. But the cover doesn’t seem to fit this book, or Angelini as an author.

After reading the book I still feel the same way. I don’t really love this cover, and I understand that it is kind of silly, but I don’t. I much prefer the ethereal look of the “Starcrossed” series, and think it suits Angelini’s writing style and stories more.

Also, the dust jacket was weird. At first I really liked that the back inside panel was shorter than the inside panel because I had never seen it before, and it was interesting. However, when reading hardcovers, I use the panels as bookmarks, and this shorter panel wasn’t conducive to that.

I apologize, but I needed to make note of those things because I think it led to my disposition while reading the book and going into this new series.

Into the story:

I actually detested Lily when I first started reading about her. She was whiny, and kind of dumb (this doesn’t entirely go away, but it gets better…I promise) but I really disliked her. I will admit that I think this has a lot to do with the best-friends-getting-together-after-years-of-best-friend-being thing, and I think it reality I just hated Lily + Tristan (World 1 Tristan anyway, I really liked World 2 Tristan). The Normal World Lily seemed stereotypical and kind of a flub--and basically I was absolutely terrified about fifteen pages in. This was not the Angelini I know and love. Some of the characteristics continued--like Lily arguing and being completely unable to accept the realities of the new world.

However, she definitely delivers after that. I don't know if the terribly written Normal World was intentional to lead us into an amazing, vivid, and high fantasy world that came later, but I was scared by it. But the world that was created in the last 3/4 of the book was truly unlike anything I have ever read. The detail and descriptions were on par with the writer's ability to carry me away to another world.

Spoilers and extended review after the jump.

For starters, I want to talk about Rowan for a second. AKA, my new book boyfriend. Rowan might be one of the most realistic men written in a high fantasy, and I enjoyed him. I actually enjoyed their arguing (I will say that most of my ships revolve around the love/hate dynamic, so there's that), and the "does he only love her because she's a non-psycho Lillian" thoughts that I had at every turn. I was also fond the mindspeak conversations and the dynamics between him, Tristan, and Caleb.

Second, the concept, mythology, and uses of the willstones were really interesting to me. I felt that they were fitting, and the idea made a lot of sense for how Normal Lily was transformed with magic. Angelini is nothing if not through, I didn't have a lot of unanswered questions about the magical properties.  I'm digging this plot point.

Third, the magic itself was realistic and well-developed. I felt that the scientific elements and descriptions were completely interesting and really made the story for me.

Finally, I am a huge fan of the scientists vs. witches crisis. It was normal relationship flip-flopped, and it was fitting and a great part of the story.

There were a couple of things I didn't like, for example, the timeline was confusing. I'm not sure how long Lily has been in the different Salem, or how long certain things took. Every once in a while an indicator would be thrown in like "oh there's snow there, because it's December" but not enough for me to be able to lay it all out in my head. Also, I felt that there were some thrown in sexual items that were sometimes unnecessary, sometimes just abrupt. For example, Lily being topless and Rowan and Tristan painting/wrapping her breasts for the antibiotic ceremony. I get that it's supposed to create an emotion and feeling of being intense ceremonial feelings, but it was sudden and felt off.

I will also say that I was disappointed in characterization aspects--specifically Lillian and Lily and their connection. I also was upset with the weakness that Lily constantly displayed, and the preachiness about the Normal World. I don't care about your opinions on nukes. I don't. Lily's inability to accept the new world--the people, traditions, and ideas, wasn't realistic and it was silly.

Overall, I would say this is honestly one of the most original YA books I have ever read. Included in this list for me are Angelini's other books, she really is just an original author who can create intricate and engrossing histories, plots and characters. She is just phenomenal.

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