Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Title: Trial by Fire
Author: Josephine Angelini
Format I Read: ARC
Pages: 374
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Stars: 5
Goodreads Link

I quite literally read this book nonstop, with only a mild pause for much-needed sleep. Angelini completely sucked me in. My mind is boggled. Boggled. This book has to be one of the most interesting, most intricately created, most fascinating books I've read in a while. Angelini did a damn good job at building this mind-blowing world.

I've read many reviews of this book, and it seems that a lot are not favorable. I picked up an ARC of the sequel, Firewalker, at BEA, not even realizing that it was a sequel. Thus, in order to read Firewalker, I had to get my hands on Trial by Fire. I then stalked the #booksfortrade tag until I got a copy. Unfortunately, with all the reviews that I'd read, I was extremely nervous that I was going to hate Trial by Fire and be stuck with an ARC that I totally didn't want to read. So I went into Trial by Fire with lots of reservations. Fortunately, I ended up absolutely loving the book (and I will be starting the sequel as soon as I'm done with this review).

For those who are unfamiliar with Trial by Fire:

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.

To start: the world building, guys, the world building! Angelini created such a fascinating world (or worlds, I guess). I don't want to go too far into it, but I have to gush. Basically, this different Salem is a bizarre mish-mash of modern and medieval. In Lillian's Salem, the witch trials were more than 200 years ago. When the townspeople chose to burn witches instead of hanging them, they allowed the course of history, as Lily knows it, to be drastically altered. The highest level of witch is called a firewalker, someone who can literally burn on a pyre while absorbing the energy that the fire gives them. Burning witches at the stake ironically gave them enough power to create a whole new world--one where witches are in charge. It was so insanely cool to see exactly how Lillian's Salem branched off from Lily's Salem, or our world.

I also loved the world building with the science. Lillian is crusading against science--she went worldjumping, which is how she pulled Lily into her world. In her worldjumping, she saw the danger and destruction associated with science. Science falls second to the witch's magic and is seen as a more barbaric way of getting things done in Lillian's Salem. However, many people are forced to resort to science, because the witches refuse to give them the necessities they need to survive: energy, food, medicine, etc. These people are stuck as Outlanders, living in constant fear of the Woven, hybrid monsters with a thirst for blood, an experiment gone wrong. They need science to survive, but Lillian is hunting down the scientists one by one, leaving them to hang.

I loved how all of the science had a parallel in our world. A few scientists are dealing with elemental energy--to us, nuclear energy. Other scientists are feeding mold to sick children--to us, antibiotics. It was so fascinating to connect it all!

Honestly, Angelini had an explanation for everything. Even the food that Lily had to eat! Witches are taken care of and watched out for by mechanics, who can heal and protect their witch. Rowan, who used to be Lillian's most loyal mechanic until a falling out, is one of the best and strongest mechanics. He's constantly advising Lily about the biology of her body, as he knew Lillian's body better than anyone. Lily and Lillian have the same body, after all. Angelini carefully explains how salt is important to a witch for its electrical charge, how Lily's allergies have real foundation in her identity as a witch, how everything is meaningful. I loved the careful blend of biology, science, and magic. It was riveting!

I'll be honest, there were some things that were unexplained and slightly underdeveloped. Like I said earlier, Lillian's world was a mish-mash of modern and medieval. That threw me off because there was no clear explanation of that Salem's history and development. It all had to be pieced together as you read the story. That was a little disorienting, but also a bit exciting. You had to figure it out as you went, just like Lily!

Some people didn't like Lily. They say that she's lovestruck and weak. They say that it's unbelievable how all of this power is just thrown into her lap. I completely disagree. Lily didn't abandon her world because she felt betrayed by Tristan. She abandoned her world because she felt trapped by her life, felt useless in her body, felt ostracized by anyone and everyone. I think that's perfectly acceptable. She wasn't just a scorned little girl; her reasons were valid. And then there's the reminder that she didn't consciously abandon her world. In reality, she was tricked and kidnapped. If a little voice in your head says, "You can escape," why wouldn't you agree? It's not like the voice is real... It's just your little pity party. Unless there are witches involved, of course. I loved Lily. I thought she was spunky and strong; I was so excited that she finally got the chance to be her, the her who wasn't inhibited by her weak body. I didn't think that her character switch when she got to Lillian's Salem was bizarre. I think that Lily always had that sass and strength in her. She could just never express it because she was trapped by her sickened body. Lily's powerful magic also didn't feel unnatural. It made sense. She literally has the same body as Lillian--of course she has the same amount of power. It was logical. I didn't feel like it was forced at all! I honestly loved Lily; she was a fantastic main character.

I also loved all of the other characters: the Tristan in Lillian's world, the Juliet in Lillian's world, and (of course) Rowan. God, Rowan was swoonworthy. He's totally my new book boyfriend. I loved him so hard. And I loved the looks that we got into his head, too! It was cool how Angelini let us peek into his emotions and memories. Juliet was also so fantastic. I really enjoyed seeing her struggle between Lillian and Lily, both of which feel like her sister. She has to decide between what's right and what's wrong, no matter how loyal she wants to be to Lillian. She was a really strong minor character. I really hope we get to see more of her!

Beyond the characters and the world, the writing was absolutely amazing. Angelini sucked me in with her words. The descriptions, the thoughts of the characters, the style--it was all captivating. The dialogue was so well-written and I loved the characters' interactions. I also really liked the fact that she wrote in third person; it allowed the primary focus to be on Lily, but also let the reader sneak a peek into the other character's heads, like Gideon (the villain) and Juliet.

And here's where I have to stop before I give the entire book away. Already, I think this might be one of my longest reviews in months. I could talk about this book for days! Everything was just so... entrancing. I can't wait to read the sequel.

Overall, Trial by Fire was a fantastic book with exquisite world building. I loved the characters and the concept. The story was intricately woven and endlessly fascinating. Definitely a must-read!