THE FIRE WISH
By Amber Lough
WHEN ROBIN WILLIAMS RECENTLY PASSED, I had flashback childhood images of a man wearing a woman’s wig and grandmother clothes, a crazy bat, a bangarang Peter Pan, and of course a big blue genie. I have always been curious about genies, their interpretations, and the mythology behind them. I’ve read Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus books starring a very clever djinn and loved them. What wonderful tale would Amber Lough spin about the warring humans of Baghdad and the mysterious beings made of smokeless fire, the jinni? A human princess captures an enemy jinni and orders her to switch places with her to avoid a marriage? What can’t go wrong with this set-up?
The execution, I’m afraid. The heart of the story was missing because there were no memorable characters to win the readers’ hearts. The world-building was there, the imagery crept up and absorbed you, but as you looked around for the characters to bring this classic “switch places” story to life, there were none to be found. Zayele, the human betrothed to Prince Kamal, and Najwa, the jinni spy who can break through human wards, are more alike than just appearance—their first person voice sounds too similar as well. The girls had rather bland personalities; Zayele was vaguely a rebellious princess trope, and Najwa seemed as invisible as the Shatabi spell, and not in a good way. I kept questioning how someone who seemed as weak backboned as her would be enlisted for a high-pressure spying mission on the enemy. What really irritated me about her was that she kept getting distracted from her mission by a certain hawt prince in the Baghdad Palace. Really, your people are at risk and you’re busy thinking of a human guy you’ve barely spoken to? Being “jinni” by itself isn’t a personality; for an example, look at Bartimaeus in Jonathan Stroud’s books and how easily his humor, cowardice, and clever usage of weapons of the weak makes him memorable and beloved by readers.
Zayele is marginally better, but she just seemed like a slightly more outspoken version of Najwa. It doesn’t help that the supporting characters are forgettable tropes we’ve seen in fantasy books before—evil vizier, brooding prince, wise teacher, bitchy girl rival, ect. I was being told a story, and I was being told about the chemistry between the characters, but I didn’t feel it. However, do read this story for how to do prose. The imagery is gorgeous, and for the first tenth of the book, I was really excited for how this story would turn out. An excerpt describing the jinni’s home, the Cavern:
“The Lake of Fire swept along the side of the Cavern, lapping at the crystal spears on the edge. Unlike in the human stories, it wasn’t a lake of molten rock. It was decorated in fire. Gases bubbled to the surface, where they caught fire, sending licks of flame dancing across the shallow waves. The flames were blue-hot, but harmless. Wishlights lined the streets and the crescent wall that curved along the lake…” (Chapter 5).
Oh, and in the human palace:
“I felt too many eyes on me. I looked up to avoid them and found myself beneath a sky of glass lanterns. They hung from the mosaic ceiling like spiders from their webs. Glowing, smoking spiders.” (Chapter 35)
I don’t know about you, but spiders have never sounded so beautiful. Also, the story’s pace does pick up toward the end, and things are wrapped up neatly. You could read this book and be done with the series, or you could read on in the next installment. I don’t know whether I’ll continue, since sympathetic characters are a large part of why I fall in love with a series. Maybe Lough won’t play it quite as safe in the next one.
Recommended for fans of: Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna YovanoffUpcoming Book Review: Prophecy by Ellen Oh