For a Muse of Fire (For a Muse of Fire #1), by Heidi Heilig
Publish Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Greenwillow Books
Genre: YA Fantasy
My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.75 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader.
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.
Heidi Heilig continues to astound me. She is incredible, and deserves so much more readership than she seems to get. I fell in love with The Girl From Everywhere last year and when I discovered she was writing this beauty, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Besides the fact that Heidi was the one writing it, the premise of it – a shadow player who uses souls to control her puppets, mixed with the fear and unrest of a colonized country – had me invested almost immediately from the start. And Heidi did not disappoint. This book was a non-stop, breathtaking journey of rebellion, escape, and a girl searching for a cure for her illness (bipolar) while also making sense of the power she has over the dead and the ramifications of her actions to the people around her.
In the book, Heidi often uses the term “sefondre”, meaning “to coalesce” or to come together – something that Jetta loves more than anything to see happen, especially when she helps make it so through her shadow puppet shows. And Heidi does just the same – she pulls together so many ideas, inspirations, and story-telling styles that all coalesce into a hauntingly beautiful narrative. She merges traditional novel writing with epistles, stage script, sheet music (that she wrote the lyrics to herself! And yes, I preordered the book and received the mp3s of the recordings and listened to them while I read and oh my gosh they are gorgeous), and other forms of communication to create a such a unique and engrossing tale. And the inspirations of French colonization and South Asian culture, mixed with the fantasy magic of necromancy, and the advancing technological descriptions just made for such an incredible setting that was rendered stunningly.
From the first page onwards, I was absolutely smitten with this story. I loved everything from the shadow players to the burlesque girls, from the rebellion to the Chantrays’ journey to get to Aquitan, from Jetta’s relationship with her family to the slow-burn romance with Leo. It was like…if Miss Saigon was merged with a fantasy world of dark and twisting origins, but ten times better, obviously. It was amazing how there was so much happening that there were many times I felt like I was coming up on the end of an act, only to discover I was absolutely nowhere near it. It was just a constant flow of events and revelations, with so much occurring and so much movement that when plot twists came about, I would realize that I had not even had the time to consider their possibility. They didn’t even feel all that shocking, but revealed another layer of the story that gave it so much more depth and interest that it just made me even more excited to keep going.
I really wanted to like Jetta as a character when I first met her, not only because she is a theatre person like me, but also because of her moral greyness about her abilities to see and control souls. She is bipolar, although she calls it a “malheur,” and her biggest goal is to make her way to Aquitan where she hopes to find a cure for it. On the one hand, I really loved how she wasn’t afraid of the spotlight, how much she enjoyed the exultation of being applauded, the power of putting on a show, but also how that thrill also appeared in other ways that made her hesitate and question herself at times. On the other hand, many of her decisions and the resulting effects of her actions during her journey left me feeling a little angry at her at times. Jetta makes very impulsive and rash decisions at times, never really thinking things through, and while I understand that this is often a symptom of being bipolar, I just wish her regret over her actions had been more apparent sooner. There was some shown about halfway through, when she first heard of what her actions against the armée’s questioneur caused, but things moved on so quickly from there that I wasn’t sure if she ever really dealt with that guilt she felt. It wasn’t until almost the end that she really seemed to make sense of all she had done and what it all had led to, so I felt like that it was only the beginning of her character’s development. Still, seeing this mental illness represented in Jetta was excellent, and definitely gave me a better idea of what it is like for those suffering from it. The ups and downs of it and the way others around her treat her because of it – all it of it gave such a clear picture of what it is like to deal with this malheur, along with the hopes and desires to find a way to cure it.
I think one of the strongest points of this book were the relationships. Jetta and her family share a strong one, and their journey together only emphasized it. At first, I felt like her mother was a little too paranoid at times, but over the course of the novel her actions and fears grew to make sense, especially where concerning her protection over Jetta. In contrast, we see Leo’s strained relationship with his own biological family, and how much he desires to be wanted by his father despite how his father disregards him. Leo does, however, still have the family he made with the girls who work at La Perl, the burlesque that he owns and runs in Luda, and I love how much he cares for them.
I really enjoyed how easy and open Jetta and Leo were with each other over the course of the novel. They each had difficulties in their past, parts of their family history that were painful, but they weren’t afraid to talk about it with each other. I loved that their relationship wasn’t perfect, that they didn’t immediately fall for each other, that the spark grew slowly over the course of the book, but that even in the end, their decisions didn’t always keep the other in mind, and that they didn’t put each other first above all else. It’s a difficult romance, one that definitely still needs more time, and one that also had a lot to work through. [SPOILER] The way things end with them might feel final, but knowing my French, it also feels like a bit of hope. I still cried, though, because so much was said in those so few words, and the way Leo signed his name said so, so much. [END SPOILER]
This book is a journey, one full of strong characters, incredible world-building, a beautiful union of different story-telling styles and inspirations, and so much action and intrigue that it is difficult to put down. It is dark and bright, full of hope and life but also fear and death, good decisions and bad ones. This is a story that will leave you breathless and wanting more, despite all that it already gives you.
Warnings: This book does contain self-harm (as part of the necromancy), mentions of suicide and torture, on-page character death, and blood.