Title: We Set the Dark on Fire
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.
On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?
Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!
I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy We Set the Dark on Fire. I love books with feminist angles and I love unique world building, which this book has in spades. However, there were things about it that definitely kept it from being a favourite.
I want to talk first about the aspects that I liked. First was the setting and particularly the Medio School and it’s weird cult-like behaviour. I loved reading the bits from the handbook and I loved the sinister feeling that came anytime Mejia wrote about this organization and how the females in it were oppressed. There was such a good level of creep factor here that definitely gave me Handmaid’s Tale vibes. I also loved the fast, hard, feminist angle this book has, as there is this amazing build towards uprising that I think just works in the story so so so well.
I think the hardest part for me with this book was the writing. I found that while the world was very interesting and colourful, not seeing it through Dani’s eyes was difficult for me. I think the third person narration just didn’t work for me at all, and I think for a lot of the more difficult or high pressure moments in the story, the third person perspective removed a lot of the agency for me. I would have loved to have a sense of Dani’s feelings, her discomfort, and her drive to survive this weird dystopian world.
I wasn’t also entirely sold right away on the forbidden romance, especially because I struggled with the character in question. I generally don’t mind a hate-to-love relationship but again parts of it just didn’t work for me. It made me happy because I’m all for these types of stories being told and I think there is a lot of value in them, and towards the end of the book, I found myself setting into the romance and it grew on me.
We Set the Dark on Fire is an interesting debut where I found myself loving the world-building and the creep factor, but the characters fell short for me. I wish I liked these characters more because I found myself not really connecting with any of them, even in their times of distress. I think those looking for an interesting and different kind of dystopian story, will definitely enjoy this one.