Book: For A Muse of Fire (For A Muse of Fire #1)
Author: Heidi Heilig
Expected Publication: 25th September (Yes, I know, I know)
Format: Physical copy, paperback
Thank you to Heather Doss who sent me the copy of For A Muse of Fire to read early through the #bookishwish on Twitter.
I actually saw a tweet about this book from the author herself in which she compared it to…well honestly I don’t remember the exact comparison but it was something I liked, so I instantly added it to my TBR and then very kindly, Heather Doss accepted my bookish wish from Twitter and sent a proof all the way from the US for me (thank you, Heather!) so I got to read this book a little early (though granted, it took till after the book was officially released to finish it, but since it’s probably not going to be released in the UK till next year, I guess I still technically read it early!). Here is a short synopsis of the book:
A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in a new trilogy from Heidi Heilig.
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.
Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.
First off, the premise for this was pretty darn awesome. A combination of Asian and French, a main character with necromancy talents and bipolar disorder and the whole shadow puppet element? Yeah, the whole thing made for the premise of a brilliant story.
I loved Jetta as a main character, she was very complex, both kind and caring & very family focused, and seemingly quite sweet natured, but she’s also reckless, impulsive and could be quite savage at times, she’s the literal definition of a Slytherpuff. Her bipolar disorder (the author also has the same disorder, so this story is #ownvoices for that), informs a lot of her actions and it was great to see a fantasy where the main character suffers from a mental illness and this informs the way they act but is never the singular important part of them, it’s just another aspect of their character.
It was also so lovely to have a fantasy story where the main character’s family plays such an important role. Jetta’s parents are not just there, they have an important role to play in her story and her love for her family is a really defining part of her character and that was so lovely and refreshing to see in a YA fantasy.
The diversity in this story was just fantastic, nearly all the main characters are POC as it takes place in an Asian inspired world and of course, Jetta, has bipolar disorder. Apparently the author has also confirmed that Jetta is queer, though that is only implied, not directly mentioned on page.
I loved the world, though I could have potentially done with a bit more world building, the idea of the fusion of Asian culture with French colonialism was a great one but I didn’t feel like the world leaped off the page as much as it could have. I thought Jetta’s necromancy powers were awesome, though again, they could have been a bit more developed. Still I think it has real potential and I can’t wait to return to it and learn a little more in the second book. The whole idea of binding the souls of the dead to shadow puppets (or other objects) to command them, is an awesome idea and I loved seeing Jetta’s powers expand through the book.
The way the book was set out was also great, with the little ephemera of song lyrics, play scripts and letters relating to the story between each chapter and it was laid out in a three act structure, like a play which was very pleasing. The little snippets of the stories for the puppet plays that Jetta and her family put on were particular highlights for me.
As a love interest, Leo felt kind of bland, and as much as I loved the positive representation of sex workers, the girls at Le Perl weren’t really given enough time to be developed either. Having said that, I did love the way Leo as a biracial character was represented, his struggles with not fitting in on either side of his heritage felt very authentic (he is also an #ownvoices character as Heilig is biracial herself).
It was nice to have the content warnings in the front of the book, I feel like that’s something that should be more normalised throughout publishing.
I loved that we got a reference page for all the characters at the front of the book, there were a lot of characters and it was nice to have that to refer to when I got confused over who people were, particular with the Emperor and the Boy King who I was constantly mixing up. I also would have appreciated a glossary for the French terms, since I don’t speak French (at least not very well!), so that would have been helpful.
The maps that will be present in the final version were obviously missing from the ARC copy that I read, which I understand as it’s an unfinished copy, but I can’t wait to see them in the final version.
The book was relatively slow paced, it only really picks up in the third act, and I also found certain parts a little confusing, since part of Jetta’s bipolar (or malheur as it’s called in the book) is missing random gaps of time which I understand but as a reader it was a little disconcerting.
I loved the writing, Heidi Heilig is amazing at painting a picture with words and even though I’m not a very visual reader, so I didn’t exactly picture everything in my mind, I could feel the atmosphere around me, which was great.
I could have done with more context for the Rebellion, we kind of just get thrown into it, and although I understand the basic jist of the whole Aquitans colonizing the Chakrans, it would have been nice to get a bit more backstory on that, and I really want to meet the Tiger!
I can’t really talk about Jetta’s heritage much without giving away huge spoilers, but I just want to say that I think there are some plot holes that the author didn’t really think about there and I’m hoping they’re explained more in the next book.
I would have liked to see more of Theodora as I thought she was a really interesting character who wasn’t really explored enough. I’m hoping to see more of her in the next book, and to see her interactions with Leo and Jetta as they should be very interesting after the events of this book.
The ending was really exciting and the last few chapters hold some great stuff that have made me really excited for the next book. Jetta makes some….well let’s just say interesting….decisions that will no doubt have major repercussions for the next book.
Overall, this was a promising start to what looks to be a great new fantasy series, it was wonderfully diverse, had a very cool premise and an interesting and complicated main character, and although the pacing and world building could have been improved here and there, I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book in the series.
My Rating: 3.5/5
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Jetta and Cheeky (one of the dancers at Le Perl) have a discussion about clothes.
My next review will be of Midnight, the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book by Derek Landy. Fair warning though, it may be a while till that review materializes as a) I have to finish the book and b) I am super busy in November so will not be blogging as much as I normally like to.