I requested this book because: WITCHES. SALEM WITCHES. It beckons to me like a siren in the sea. I can't resist. I can't29 June 2015: $2.99 on Kindle
I requested this book because: WITCHES. SALEM WITCHES. It beckons to me like a siren in the sea. I can't resist. I can't fight. So, I didn't even bother. I'd never read Josephine Angelini before and I had no idea what to expect. I hoped the book would be good, but I wasn't about to let my expectations get too high. I've been burned before.
And then I met Lily. Lily of the horrible allergies, unpopular at school yet comfortable (mostly) in her own skin. She's confident and sure of herself. She knows that she deserves respect - and she demands it. The opinions of those that don't matter to her, quite simply don't really concern her. She gives credit where it's due, and blame as well. Even if that's on herself. She takes responsibility for her actions and isn't afraid to do difficult things to uphold her convictions. What a breath of fresh air. I loved Lily immediately. I related to her. She feels so incredibly real. How many times do you meet a heroine - especially in young adult - where she is wronged by a guy and she just writes his behavior off? Too many to count, I know. So when Lily told Tristan off, ended their friendship, and walked away from him - all within the first ten percent of the book - I nearly cheered. Trust me, he deserved it. Jerk. This is all when she's just a sick girl who thinks that soon she'll be living in a plastic bubble, unable to go to school, to keep her safe from the world that's trying to kill her. Still she knows she deserves better than what that mrphprh is trying to do to her.
Then she gets to the other Salem. The one where witches and magic fuel everything instead of using the natural resources as we do. Science there is far behind our world's because witches can do everything scientists do, and they do it intuitively, without the need for extra equipment. Seeing into an atom, into the quarks? No problem. Get a witch. They control everything, from the creation of food parts, the harvesting of vegetables and the distribution of electricity. Alternatively, there's the fact that instead of billions of residents...there's only thirteen cities in this world. Everything else is the Wild, overrun with magically engineered super-beasts, an experiment gone horribly wrong, that are completely out of control and hunt humans that dare to go out of the walled cities. At the very top of this power structure is the head witch, Lillian - Lily's double, her other self and the one who brought her to this world - killing all scientists, hanging and executing at will. No one understands why she's doing this. It all started about a year ago, but she's not to be deterred. She'll kill every last person that disagrees.
I've got to talk about Lillian for a moment. First, let me give you a bit of her introduction:
Yes, fire has teeth, and it chews at you like a living, breathing animal. It even roars like an animal. When you're in its mouth, you have to fight for air. Fire, like a lion, likes to suffocate its prey. [...]
I remember what I must do, even if it makes me the villain of my own story. Most importantly, I remember that the good of the many really does outweigh the good of the few. Even if one of those few is me. [...]
This girl I'm about to steal has no concept of loss. She doesn't understand the difference between infatuation and love. That's a good thing. I don't want her broken like me. I want her wounded, yes, but stronger for it. There comes a day when every girl loses the stars in her eyes. And then she can see clearly.
This is Lily's day.
Holy. Crap. Making herself the villain of her own story. What reasons could she have for this? Why must she be the villain? Why does she need Lily? All of these questions, and more, were coursing through my mind, begging to be answered. And as I got to know Lillian, and her world, I began to see, to understand, a little bit more. Lillian is one of the best villains I've read in a good long time.
Though there are more than a few other characters in the book that I, at turns, loved, hated, despised, or was rooting for, there's only one other one that I'm going to take the time to talk about now. Because, like Lily, instead of being a one-note character that follows every annoying convention out there, Rowan defied my expectations time and time again. When he's helping Lily get feeling back in her legs and she gets embarrassed, jerking away from him, he flat out tells her that she only has to tell him to stop, and he always will. Then he goes and apologizes to her for being a jerk when they first met (and he thought she was Lillian). He APOLOGIZED. Flat out, no excuses or anything. Just "I'm sorry I was so horrible to you when we first met." I need more heroes like Rowan. A little cynical and guarded with his heart, but compassionate, kind, caring, willing to compromise, apologize, help, listen to reason, cautious, willing to give due where it's deserved, and never strong-arm someone into doing it 'his way.' Plus he totally kicks ass and is smart. Yes, I definitely need more.
You may, or may not, know that characters are what I live for. Give me excellent characters and I'll overlook a lot of flaws in the world or plot. Lucky me, I didn't have to overlook anything here. Second to characters only is the world. Create a fantasy world that I can get lost in, that makes sense and I can understand, and I'm all in. One different decision, piled on another different decision perhaps, and another and another, and then there's this world that's so vastly different from ours and yet contains so many of the same people, and is somewhat eerily similar. Who would you be in this different world? Who should you be if you show up there?
And here we hit on the most amazing, to me, thing about my reading of this book. Not only did Josephine Angelini create relatable, fascinating characters that I want to root for; then put them in a world that is so similar and yet so different than ours, a world that makes sense and follows rules, just different from our rules; but she created a story that made me think. Who would I be if I showed up in this world? Would I hold to my convictions? What are the limits of holding to those convictions? Is there a line in the sand? And - even more important - when you have unimaginable power, how do you decide where that line is? What would you do for those you love? If you could stop a horrible event from happening, should you? Would you? What if the cost is someone's life? Multiple someone's? What if stopping this event meant saving hundreds of thousands? What if you're not even sure this event will occur?
I liked how one way wasn't necessarily better than another. That there are pros and cons to each different path. Though there's a definite 'green' leaning in this book, it doesn't paint our world as intrinsically worse for the industrial revolution and discoveries that we've made. Though Lillian's alternate world hasn't polluted the skies and waters, doesn't make hers necessarily better. There's a lot of dichotomies to examine and explore here. I'm really looking forward to more of that. And I think Lily's going to have to find the path that's a bit better than either of the current alternatives - but that's a story for the sequels, I think.
My mind went down a thousand different paths, to a thousand different ends. At times I would pause and simply think about the ramifications of actions. When a book can do that, can absorb me so utterly and yet captivate my mind so completely with ramifications in my life here, it's sure to end up on my 'Best of...' list.
Every once in a while, if a reader is lucky, a book comes along that so completely blows away their expectations, wholly enthralling, enchanting, and - yes, I'll say it - bewitching, that they finish it and want to dive directly back in, that they're not even sure how to manage the wait until the sequel. Trial by Fire was that book for me.