Review #8: Fiction
Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini
*I received this book as an Advance Reader’s Copy from a panel while attending Book Expo America in New York in May. It will be available in print this September.
17 year old Lily Proctor, who lives in present day Salem Massachusetts, has always found it hard to fit in, what with her strange allergic reactions and her body’s tendency to overheat all the time. Also because she’s in love with her best friend Tristan, who is naturally the biggest play boy of their high school. When he humiliates her at her first real high school party, she finds herself wanting nothing to do with him, or her life.
Fortunately for her, in the Salem in another dimension, there is another Lily listening to her wishes to leave. This other Lily, who goes by Lillian and is the all-powerful and pretty evil ruler of this other Salem, brings Lily to this other dimension in order to help her stay in power. Lily quickly realizes that Lillian is evil and joins with the other dimension version of her sister and Tristan, along with characters not present in her own Salem, to lead the resistance against Lillian’s evil plans.
Lily must learn to control her power, which is harnessed and used with crystals, and by transferring it to others to use (these people are called Mechanics), and must decide if she wants to stay in this dimension to help end the rule of her evil alter-self, or if she wants to use the power she has in that world to figure out how to get back home, and leave the others to figure out for themselves how to live in their dimension.
It’s a pretty fast-paced novel, it really grabs you and pulls you in with the intriguing balance of other dimensions and alternate realities. This other Salem almost feels like the Salem of the past, during witch trails and uprisings for power, but it’s also a more developed Salem; witches rule the territory, there is no understanding of life outside of this Salem–no other cities or states or countries to go to, weapons and magical powers are blended together to create sophisticated military-like forces, and science has been outlawed in favor of magic — which is the underlying reason for the rift between Lillian and those in the resistance. Lillian stays in power as long as magic rules.
The characters are well-developed and are nicely set apart from one dimension to another, it was fun to see how the personalities differed between the same characters in present day Salem and witch-ruled, magical, medieval-esque Salem.
I think the world building was also done pretty well. I got a good sense of this other dimension Salem, of the setting, of the circumstances and the situation with the revolt and the resistance. The way magic is used is also pretty fleshed out. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some aspects that made me question what was being described, or that some descriptions weren’t a little confusing. Though I think for the most part, the magical element and it’s usage is not only new and exciting, but believable in the sense that I found no gaping holes in the execution and implementation into the story.
This is the first in a trilogy, and the various subplots that are introduced really help to see this as something that could continue on. I think without those, it really would stand alone, and any other installments would seem to just drag out. I was not a fan of the way we are left at the end of this book, however. Right at the most pivotal moment in the fight against Lillian, Lily finds herself flying through dimensions again and that’s it. Yes it sets up the obvious, that there will be other installments to come, but at least for me, personally I would have liked it to go just a beat further and have her land somewhere. Just get her first impressions, that moment of, “What happened? Where am I? Where’s the battle that was just raging around me?” etc. I’m not a big fan of novels in a series that don’t really finish anything within each installment. The conflict of this trilogy was started in this book, and it was about to come to an end, but still leave the various subplots open to being resolved in later books. The way this ends, a lot of things start, and nothing finishes. It kind of just leaves you wanting, and I think also places a lot of pressure on the next installment to provide some answers.
Overall, a good read; well written, solid characters, pretty complete world building, and there’s a good chance I pick up the second one out of curiosity.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
*cover art from Amazon.com