A Spark of White Fire (The Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna

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“Your arrow was a spark. A spark of fire so hot and white that no one will be able to put it out. And even a spark of fire can consume an entire forest if it can jump from tree to tree…Watch as one act leads to another and then to another after that. Watch the trees pass white flames on. Watch the forest burn.”

If you enjoy political intrigue, space operas, complex characters, and amazing worldbuilding A Spark of White Fire is for you! This is one of my most anticipated releases in a year with a large number of young adult releases focused on the politics of rule, and I am happy to say that this book did not disappoint! This is a genre-bending retelling of the Mahabharata that is easily accessible to YA fantasy readers and I cannot wait for you to fall in love with Esmae, Rama, and the rest of these characters!

“Do you like to read?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
This seemed a very foolish question. “Why not?”

This book is told from our heroine Esmae’s perspective and is an action packed and fast-paced read that I absolutely devoured. The synopsis of the book is an excellent primer to this story’s plot and Esmae’s backstory, and in the interest of spoilers I will not be delving deeper into the characters as I typically do; just know that they are each wonderful in their own way and complex.

The kingdom doesn’t look like it’s built on top of a space station. It looks no different from the kingdoms on planets, which was a deliberate choice to make the first citizens’ transition to life on a ship that much easier.

While A Spark of White Fire is set in space, I would classify this book more as fantasy than science fiction. The setting merely sets the stage and adds an interesting dimension to the worldbuilding.

This a world where the gods can form relationships with humans and boons are offered for great feats made. One such boon resulted in the building of a near unstoppable and sentient spaceship named Titania, which will be gifted to the warrior who bests the challenge. Esmae’s plan is to win Titania, but when she does she sets down a path the gods have warned her about.

“Mortals make their own choices, and we can’t control them, but they inevitably lead themselves to their own fates – their own fixed points. And those points, in time, will happen. One way or another, they will happen. They already have happened.”

A running theme of this tale is how much control do we have over our own destiny and being the pawn in a cosmic game in which you (seemingly) have no control. In a world where words uttered by mortals favored by the gods turn into curses, characters are forced to lived with the consequences of another’s actions. These are themes that are common in YA fantasy but done so well here as these themes are prevalent in Indian mythology as well; this story reads true to the Indian myths that helped inspire the story.

Excellent worldbuilding that is done throughout the book without ever feeling like an infodump. The world is vast, as are the characters within it, and I absolutely cherished this tale! We all know that I love complex characters, especially villains that are not strictly evil. This is definitely a tale where Esmae’s perceptions of people are constantly being challenged by her interactions with those she has villified in her head, and she cares so much for her family and the people of Kali that her feelings come off the page and wiggle their way into my heart. There is also lgbt rep with a side character that I hope we see more of in the rest of the trilogy!

This book is not without its faults. Some readers may be bothered by Esmae’s portrayal as “The Chosen One,” but in this case for me it didn’t bother me since it is common in Indian mythology. I found King Elvar’s childlike behavior annoying to the point that it at times ruined my enjoyment of the book. I understand that being a usurper king that is blind and reliant on others would be stressful, particularly when you have a power-hungry ally that uses fear to control the throne and opposition that is beloved by the people; however, throwing tantrums when you are a full-on old man is just uncomfortable.

While I have read the Mahabharata and countless other Indian myths as part of my undergraduate education, this story is not one that requires knowledge of the original myths as the themes fit so well into the young adult sff genre: kingdoms, betrayal, ascension to rule, family politics. Free will versus destiny and every action you take leading you unwittingly toward prophesy. The story is accessible and enjoyable for all, but will be especially enjoyable to those familiar with the source material. As a note, I did struggle a bit with having a main character with the name of Rama because my first association always is with The Ramayana – and considering most of the character names weren’t mythology inspired, I found it a little distracting.

Overall I really enjoyed this book: you will find a vast fantasy world inspired by Indian myths with strong and complex characters that are not as they seem, devotion, sacrifice, betrayal. I love when my characters are put through the ringer and come out stronger and I cannot wait for what is in store for them. I am happy to say that the book does not end with a giant cliffhanger. It wraps up some things and sets up others for the next installment and I am excited to see where Mandanna goes next! When I first caught wind of this book earlier this year, I was so excited and I am so pleased to say that it did not disappoint. I hope you give this gem of a book a try because it is wonderful.

★★★

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me an electronic advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication. A Spark of White Fire will be available on September 11, 2018. You can find information about my rating criteria here.


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