By Sarah Rees Brennan
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
To Sum It Up: New York is divided into two cities: the Light, which the wealthy and privileged call home, and the Dark, whose citizens live in stark contrast to their Light counterparts. Lucie Manette has known both halves of New York, having been born in the Dark but now a famous political symbol residing in the Light and connected to the Light’s powerful Stryker family. No one would dare associate them with Dark magic, but when a figure emerges from the Dark city with an obvious tie to the Strykers, Lucie finds herself caught between trying to protect the boy she loves and showing compassion for someone who, like her, comes from the Dark.
Review: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Gothic-tinged The Lynburn Legacy managed to both make me cackle like a madwoman with its sparkling wit and harpoon my heart with its more agonizing moments. Sometimes these emotions came over me within mere pages of each other. So when I found out that SRB had a new book coming out, of course I said, yes, please sign me up for more hilarity and heartache!
Tell the Wind and Fire is a retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, which, alas, I have not read and know but a handful of details about. I didn’t feel that reading Dickens’s original was necessary in order to follow Tell the Wind and Fire, though; the latter read like a self-contained story.
Instead of Paris and New York, the two cities here are Light and Dark New York. Light magicians live very comfortably, and even luxuriously, in their part of the city while Dark magicians are kept downtrodden under the thumb of the ruling Light Council. Unrest is spiking among the buried, as the Dark city’s denizens are called, and the novel’s protagonist, Lucie Manette, is a key figure to both sides.
It’s the social divide between the two New Yorks that lies at the heart of Tell the Wind and Fire, with the magic woven subtly throughout the story. Readers expecting epic magical showdowns may be a tad let down because this isn’t that type of book. Although I didn’t mind too much that magic wasn’t the book’s primary focus, I still wished for a bit more world-building. This world of a split New York with two types of magic just didn’t feel entirely fleshed out and immersive.
I sometimes became frustrated with the main character, Lucie. She makes a really, really big mistake early on in the novel, one that keeps the consequences rolling throughout. While she owns up to what she’s done—repeatedly—she’s also occasionally critical of other characters’ actions when she herself has demonstrated a pretty serious lapse in judgment. Lucie’s narrative voice also fell kind of flat for me, with quite a lot of self-reflection that looped around in circles after a while. Sometimes you just can’t seem to form a connection with a protagonist, and that’s what happened here.
The character who really livens up this book is Carwyn, a doppelganger from the Dark city with an ultra secret connection to the family of Lucie’s boyfriend, Ethan. Doppelgangers are created from illegal Dark magic and believed to be soulless. Judging from the number of sarcastic comments Carwyn cracks, doppelgangers are also snarky! One of the things I loved most about The Lynburn Legacy was its riotous humor, and I’d hoped for similar laugh-out-loud moments in Tell the Wind and Fire. The tone here is more serious, though, and the wittiest lines of dialogue belong to Carwyn. What also makes him the novel’s most intriguing character to me is his unpredictability. He doesn’t always act like the evil twin everyone expects him to be (although there are plenty of occasions when he does). I’m endlessly fascinated by morally ambiguous characters, and it’s the fact that Carwyn isn’t without faults, unlike Lucie’s almost too perfect boyfriend Ethan, that I found compelling. Yes, I have a thing for the bad boys and the sorta bad boys, and Carwyn defies fitting neatly into one category, which in turn keeps you the reader wondering what he’ll do next.
It’s taken me a few days to write this review and hash out my overall feelings about this book. Lucie wasn’t an especially engaging narrator, but Carwyn kept me invested in the story, even though he’s off page at times, building suspense around what he’s up to. I also have to praise Sarah Rees Brennan’s prose, which is as pretty as ever. There are some very beautiful yet heartbreaking quotes that got an additional half star all on their own. Tell the Wind and Fire may not be the book you’re looking for if you seek a read heavily focused on magic, but you may want to hang around for the smart-alecky doppelganger.
All in All: Obviously, the doppelganger story line was the highlight for me. I wasn’t as crazy about Lucie’s character, but the caliber of the writing kept me reading. And this book has definitely made me curious about its inspiration, A Tale of Two Cities.