A Spark of White Fire (The Celestial Trilogy #1), by Sangu Mandanna
Publish Date: September 11, 2018
Published by: Sky Pony Press
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)
**I received an egalley of this from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.
Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.
It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.
Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.
On picking this up, I was immediately immersed and interested in the world Sangu Mandanna has created. With a wonderful mixture of both sci-fi and mythological magic, this book was an engaging and enticing read. It has intrigue and action, emotional struggles and political schemes, and an interesting cast of characters. There were some issues I had with it (mainly the romance which, honestly, did absolutely nothing for the plot and really could have been done without), but for the most part these could easily be overlooked for the rest of the quite enjoyable story.
The plot was easy to fall into, and the world-building rendered wonderfully. I enjoyed how the sci-fi and the fantasy tropes blended together, with the inclusion of gods and sentient starships and the like. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Titania, the sentient starship, actually, because there was a large chunk of the book where she just sat in a dock, somewhat forgotten, despite her presence being such a big deal. There was also a reliance on the trope of withheld information, especially in the beginning, that if said information hadn’t been withheld, it might have changed the outcome of certain events. I thought the pacing of the book was excellent, otherwise, and the plot kept me interested the entire time I was reading with all the many twists and turns and Esmae’s struggles to help her brother while also staying true to her uncle. Despite this, though, I don’t think I was completely enthralled by it as a whole, but it was definitely enjoyable to read.
I think my only issues with the writing were some plot points that were dropped in seemingly from nowhere. There would just be random mentions of things – a notebook Esmae was keeping with all of the secrets she had gleaned, mysterious figures who were visiting Max – that had never been mentioned before, but which Esmae acted as though had been. It was as if the author had forgotten that this important piece of information was necessary to the plot up until that moment, and just casually entered it into the plot by sort of saying “this has been happening for a while now” when really it hadn’t. I just found it annoying how many times it happened and how little effort there had been to really make those moments shown throughout the book, rather than told at a random moment. On a different note, I was also confused about the author’s understanding of how the vacuum of space works, being twice he mentioned the characters being able to hear sound through space, and also that the atoms organic member was pulled apart when exposed to it. But, since there are gods and goddesses in this book, I suppose I could attribute that to the world-building.
As for the characters, I thought Esmae was strong and intelligent, and beautifully aware of most everything (with a few exceptions that had me a little annoyed at times). She is determined and willing to do whatever she can to join her family again and help her brother, but I loved watching her growth as she came to understand the part of her family that betrayed hers. And I liked that she wasn’t completely fearless all the time, that while she knows how to fight and wage a war, she does not lust for battle. Titania is a good companion for her in this commonality, and I loved the ship’s sarcastic attitude, but like I said before, I wish she had been on the page more than she had been. I thought both Max and Rama were highly interesting characters, with Max being so complex and Rama being such a sweetheart. And I loved loved loved Esmae’s relationship with Rama – their friendship gave me such strength and made me smile every time they interacted with each other. In fact, all of the characters’ relationships with each other were very enjoyable to read – there was lots of friendly banter and dialogue that just felt like friends having a good time together.
The rest of the characters were just as interesting and diverse, and almost all had some great depth to them.
I really, really could have done without the semi-incestuous romance between Esmae and Max that I unfortunately saw coming from the moment they spent an ounce of time together. Sure, he isn’t technically related by blood to her, but both she and literally the entire galaxy consider them to be cousins because he was adopted by her uncle. And on top of that, he is actually her aunt’s nephew, so even then, still a little too close for comfort for me. The vague chemistry between them just wasn’t enough to get me on board with it at all. And yet, no one else in the book seemed to even bat an eyelash at their relationship. In fact, the romance itself did absolutely nothing for the plot itself, and really made very little impact on the characters’ choices in the scheme of things. It just made me cringe a lot and roll my eyes because it felt so completely unnecessary and wrong.
This was a quick and engaging read, with lots of great world-building and political intrigue. I thought the characters were interesting and the storyline kept my attention, and aside from the semi-incestuous romance, the plot was full of great twists, turns, action, and emotional struggles. I don’t know if I’m going to continue with the series, because I just don’t feel as invested in the characters as I would like, but I think it is still something I would recommend to others.