Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review: Wicked Like a Wildfire

Wicked Like a Wildfire Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was fortunate to receive an Advance Reader Copy/Uncorrected Proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 Stars

As a great lover of folk and fairy tales from around the globe, I’m always excited to find new authors or new books that weave a fantasy story around fairy and folk tales. There are a plethora of books out there in this fantasy subgenre, especially those steeped in the Irish, Nordic or Russian mythos. And so it was with abundant interest that I read Wicked Like A Wildfire, whose Serbian-American author Lana Popović gives us a story rich with Balkan and Slavic folklore and a bit of Romany culture, as well.

Wicked Like A Wildfire, first book in a duology titled Hibiscus Daughter, begins with the story of twin sisters, Iris and Malina, growing up in a village in Montenegro, Catttaro (Kotor). From the start we know they possess a form of magic, termed a gleam, that their mother Jasimina lures forth from them in infancy by use of scent and taste, which is their mother’s own special form of gleam. Iris, lured by a tart hibiscus flower into gleaming becomes her hibiscus daughter of the series title, while Malina is similarly lured into gleaming by a crushed cherry. As is often the case in magic, knowledge of one’s true name or nature gives you power over that person, so their mother names them for another flower, Iris, and fruit, Malina or raspberry. The nature of the sisters’ relationship with their mother by the time the story gets its real start is quite strained. Iris has had her gleam deliberately stunted by her mother because it was just too strong. Both girls have been by Jasmina told not to find romantic love, lest their gleam give away their not-quite-human nature, which would brand them as witches and lead to their deaths. They share affection only with their close friends, Luka and Niko (short for Nikoleta), whose Roma mother Koštana was a friend of their mother’s, and with their father figure, Čiča Jovan. Jovan always knew that Jasimina was more than she seemed yet took her in all the same when she arrived in mysteriously their village. Horrible things lurk in Jasmina’s past, including a lost beloved sister. Jasmina as seen through Iris’s eyes is sharp and all edges. The reasons for Jasmina’s nature are central to the plot and can’t be detailed without spoiling the story.

Iris’s gift, of a “fractal flower magic,” and here can I say I hope that Popović’s young readers look up both the meaning and pictures of fractals to get an idea of Iris’s magic, is stunted in comparison to Malina’s. Malina possesses the gift of music and song, and can literally sing a song of a person’s present emotional state and even tell if they are truthful. This differing magical capacity has strained the sibling relationship but not frayed it entirely. Iris loves her sister a great deal, even if she’s jealous of her. Romance hovers around Iris, from both her childhood friend Luka, and his steadfast friendship which waits for her to truly see the nature of his love for her, and with a seductive stranger, Fjolar, who arrives on the scene as a dashing figure. Malina has her own romance going, but that, too, would be too much of a spoiler to go into detail about. In the course of the book we see the sisters encounter the Slavic goddess Mara/Marenna (a Baba Yaga variant in terms of her dark powers, representing night, winter and death), her sometimes fierce offspring, and Death himself. In some respects, one can see traces of the iconic story of Marya Morevna, Ivan and Koschei the Deathless here.

Popović shows us much that is interesting about Montenegran culture, it’s folk history, its delicious and alluring food (the sensuous descriptions of Jasmina’s pastries and baked goods are lush enough to make you hungry reading this book, I assure you.) Given all these many gifts, you’d be fair asking why I rated the book only 3.5 stars. After the spoiler cut, I can give you more of an idea as to why.

(SPOILERS BELOW)

Popović is a writer with an impressive curriculum vitae leading up to this, her first novel. With an academic background that features degrees in literature, law, and writing, along with her work as a literary agent in the YA field, one expects a lot from her and in many ways she delivers. The thing that makes me sad about this book is that I feel that at its heart, we have the trope of a powerful young woman who finds everyone in her life trying to shackle, rope in or tamp down on her magical power… except for that one deliciously bad guy. She knows he’s bad, we know he’s bad, but she can’t help herself, or so it seems. That's not a message I would aspire to have my teenage daughter reading. I’m sure we’re meant to think this is because of his overwhelming power. Yes, we have either her giving in to his tantalizing nature or his totally over powering her, draining her of magic, leaving her weakened and vulnerable. Midway through the book you can easily find yourself asking if this is akin to rape. In sum, she vacillates between the good guy and the very bad guy. (So yeah, something of a love triangle, with some abuse thrown in?) And then, reader, she leaves you hanging- the book ends in a cliffhanger, where we are left to wonder if the Hibiscus Daughter, the Cherry Daughter and the goddess of winter can somehow put things right. (Of course we're betting on them.) While I’m sure I’ll happily read the second book (releasing in 2018) in order to see the resolution, I was just disappointed that such beautiful worldbuilding got sidetracked by relationship tropes and cliffhangers in the plot. Nevertheless, Popović is a writer I will follow in future.

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I will be giving away my ARC copy of Wicked Like A Wildfire! (I bought the book, in spite of my reservations) How to win it? Like the Marzie's Reads Facebook page and comment on the Giveaway post. For a second chance to win, comment on the Marzie's Reads Twitter tweet about the giveaway.


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