Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Firelight by Sophie Jordan

I can't stress enough how fabulous the beginning of this book was.  Particularly, the first chapter.  Sophie introduces an original mythos and embarks on some fabulous world buidling.  Firelight is decidely paranormal / urban fantasy, but unlike anything else I have read in the genre so far.  To me, that alone was impressive, but the world that Sophie begins to construct in Firelight, has such amazing potential that I actually became angry when she let the story slide back into the ordinary.

Rather than read the obligatory synopsis, have a look at this!

From a technical standpoint, I found Sophie's writing style exceptional.  I love the way her text flows.  She's descriptive without becoming flowery, and I quickly lost myself in the story she was telling, even when the story was frustrating me.  When I no longer see the words and it's just the story unfolding, the writer is doing it right.  Sophie excels at atmosphere, mythos creation, and world building.  Her characters could use a little work tho.  I often found them behaving in ways that seemed counter to their apparent natures (mostly, I noticed this with Mom, but to a lesser degree with both Tamra and Jacinda too). 

When I was about a quarter of the way thru, and still adoring this book, a GR friend posted that she had become frustrated with Jacinda's whining.  At that point in the book, I honestly didn't see it.  Having finished the book, I, now, not only understand her frustration, but share it.  The thing is, I didn't become frustrated because of Jacinda's whining or her angst.  No, it was her indecision that did me in.  Sadly, Sophie portrayed it in such a way that made Jacinda appear to be an angsty teenager when she really wasn't. 

Teenage angst is a bit of a sore spot with me, but probably not for the reasons you're thinking.  You see, in my opinion too many people cry "angst" when it really isn't there.  When a kid whines about how no one understands them... "woe is me"... "no one has ever loved as I do"... "no one could possibly know the depth of my feelings"... then they are "angsting".  These expressions of hopelessness are rooted in youthful self pity and the inexperienced belief that no one else experiences love, loss, or feelings in general, the way the youth does.  The thing is, we ALL go thru this growing up.  As we get older, we recognize that tho individualized to each person, these feelings are universal.

Now, when teenage girl loses vampire boy and pines for him for months on end, it's easy to cry "angst"... but in my opinion it's not.  What she is experiencing is wholly unique and definitely NOT a shared experience that she is bound to get over.  When she cries, "you just don't understand," she's right, unless the reader has also experienced a paranormal loss.  Vamps are NOT merely charismatic people, my friend.  They are other worldly and utterly rare... she has peaked behind the veil of the every day world and glimpsed something beyond, something she is unlikely to get another shot at, but will ALWAYS long to encounter again.  What mere mortal can possibly measure up?  Not to mention (to borrow from the Fangs for the Fantasy crew), the possible "woo woo" that may have been established.  Could it be that something metaphysical prevents her from simply moving on?  He WAS a friggin vampire afterall <sigh> I digress.

My point is this, often in the genre of PnR and Urban Fantasy our protagonist will begin to bemoan her (occasionally, his) lot in life.  When this happens, people seem to want to gloss over the fact that the doubts, fear, anxiety, resentment (fill in your own negative emotion here), are WELL FOUNDED and not based on the errant belief that no one else has ever felt this way before and thus cannot begin to understand.  They are NOT expressing angst, and in my opinion they often aren't even being whiney.  But since this genre generally focuses on teens as the protagonist it feels natural to characterize them that way.

Angst and whininess is NOT what we see in Firelight, if you haven't read the book and you care about spoilers, you'll just have to trust me.  For the rest of you, click the link below:

» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

Now that I've mounted my vociferous defense of why Jacinda was not an angsty teenager.  Let me proceed to trash her, regardless.  The girl dwells on her problems and can't, for the life of her, make a decision and stick to it.  Her constant vacillation made me sea sick.  You might consider taking some dramamine while reading this book.

Firelight moves away from its strengths, an original mythos with built in conflict and brilliant world buiding, and gets bogged down in the mundane (Oh no! the new kid in school's having a hard time fitting in!).  Our protagonist is the epitome of "it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind".  Look, there's a difference between changing your mind, and not having one, and the way this girl bounces back and forth between the SAME two choices nearly made me lose mine. 

Almost the entire book serves as nothing but filler between a brilliant beginning and a poorly executed ending to buff the page count while we await the inevitable.  By the middle of the book, I started to nit pick... it's not good when a book causes me to do that.

As I have already indicated, I found the ending lackluster, but at least the plot started moving again. For more detail, you know what to do!

» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

This series has tremendous potential.  It was squandered in Firelight, but I'm holding out for better things when Vanish publishes in a couple weeks.  Despite my complaints, I'm giving Firelight three stars, mostly because it got me worked up enough to care.  I hate to see an original concept like this go to waste, so I hope that Sophie gets back to her strengths.  If the following interview is any indication, that MIGHT happen.  I'm eager to find out.


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