Book Review: Trial by Fire (or The One With a Lot of Aquiline Noses)

October 4, 2014 books, reviews 0

Trial by Fire cover by Josephine Angelini

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily’s other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a YA fantasy book that entertained me this much. Let’s talk about the good things first.

This review contains spoilers. Please only read on if you don’t mind or have already read the book.

The Good

Yes, everything’s been done before in some form or another, but this book actually felt original. The worldbuilding is muy bien and Trial by Fire has a lot of awesome elements that amount to even more awesomeness (See how many different words I know? My future as an author is definitely secured).

parallel universes

magic and witches

a good heroine

a great antagonist

The protagonist, Lily Proctor, is kind, confident and funny. The alternate universes are intriguing and I definitely want to know more about how everything works and what the consequences of Lily’s actions will be. The antagonist, Lillian was so well done, that I actually caught myself thinking “I’m sure she has her reasons for what she’s doing.” and let me tell you, she does some really nasty things. I trusted her and I kept wondering what her game plan was and when we’d find out. At the end of the book I wasn’t sure how much more to it there was, but even if there weren’t much, she already has convincing motivations for what she’s doing. The best antagonists are always the ones that truly believe they’re helping people with their actions, so much so that you almost believe it yourself. I’d venture that Lillian is actually the most intriguing character in this book.

The setting is rich and with alternate universes the possibilities are endless. The book is fast-paced and incredibly FUN. The power structures and gender dynamics in Lillian’s society are worth exploring with witches and mechanics vs non-magical people and the Citizens vs the Outlanders. People are stupidly dependent on their witch stones, mechanics and witches are interdependent on various levels. All of this was very well-thought out. What I enjoyed most, were the backstories and the complexities of the characters’ relationships due to the parallel universe thing. For example, if Rowan is in love with Lily, is he actually in love with her or is he really only still in love with Lillian? Are they even different people? Does it matter in terms of their relationship? Is Juliet betraying her sister or helping her sister when she sides with Lily? How much do little and big changes influence our lives so we turn out completely different than we would have otherwise? This book certainly isn’t the first story exploring questions like these, but it does so convincingly and entertainingly.

The Not So Good

Even though Lily is confident and considerate, it almost feels like the author is shoving it in my face sometimes. I assume she really wanted to highlight the differences between Lily and Lillian, but I got it the first few times it was mentioned. Actually you didn’t need to mention it at all, showing me was enough. Lily also displays a crushing lack of self-awareness when she keeps getting angry at everyone for comparing her to Lillian. She’s YOU, she only grew up differently – OF COURSE people are afraid you’ll turn into her. Please acknowledge that you COULD under the right (or wrong, I guess) circumstances. In fact, this would have been a great time to make a point about how all human beings are capable of evil when pushed hard enough and to acknowledge that shared breakability. Don’t share my opinion? That’s cool, but I think Lily could definitely become Lillian. In fact, sometimes it almost feels like she’s breaking bad already. She killed several people with little to no remorse, even if it wasn’t with her own hands. She takes responsibility for hundreds of people, yet she plans to return home and leave her mechanics without a witch.

I’m very much in favor of magic, but HOW can Lily learn it so easily? I actually read this in a review on xpresso reads before I bought the book and now I know what they were talking about. I appreciate that she’s one of the most, if not the most powerful witch around, but still it should be a little harder for her to get the witchy juices flowing. Wow, awkward phrasing there. Totally going to leave it in the edited version (she said pretending to edit her blog posts). With how easily Lily took up magic, wouldn’t she somehow have stumbled upon it before, ignorance and all?

All of Lily’s health conditions are explained by the fact she’s a witch. Feel free to disagree, but it seemed a bit too much like the magical cure disability trope to me. ‘Cause that’s never been an issue before. This actually really bugged me. I thought it was well written before she was brought to the parallel universe, but it would have been more interesting to read about someone who has all of those allergies and seizures and still manages to navigate a new world and come to terms with her newfound magical powers to me.

Way. Too. Much. Romance. It would have been okay if it had been a side plot or an organic development of Lily and Rowan’s relationship, but it was predictable, overdone and boring. Then again, first love is predictable, overdramatic and boring to hear about for everyone else but the people involved, so maybe Angelini just did a good job of depicting that. It was too much for me and I would have preferred it BY FAR if Lily’s motivations were based on better things than just to help Rowan because she’s in love with him. I also had an issue with the technologically advanced/magical medieval ages crossover universe. It wasn’t bad per se, but it threw me out a little sometimes. The general conflict between science and magic was great, but I couldn’t help but feel confused when the setting went from castle to camping in the woods with little to no conveniences to sleek apartment and back.

The Verdict

Despite the problems I had with it, this book truly stands out from the mass of mediocre YA books I’ve read recently. It was truly entertaining and I can’t wait to read more in this world. Lillian was probably my favorite character and Lily didn’t suck either. OR ARE THEY EVEN TWO DIFFERENT CHARACTERS? Anyways, it was a great read and even though I had some serious issues with it, I can’t convince myself to detract more than half a star because I’m rating in terms of reading enjoyment and I did enjoy it a lot.

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