by Victoria Scott
Read: February 22 - 23, 2014
Published: February 25, 2014 by Scholastic
Category: Fantasy races, sci-fi, YA
Series: Fire & Flood #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon
Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.
Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.
The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?
Fire & Flood is an entertaining, fast moving trek through jungles and deserts with a heroine who has no natural survival talent at all. The adventure contains lots of high stakes moments, as well as bugs, rain and all sorts of elemental, wilderness disasters. Any time a large group of people is competing for a coveted prize, there's sure to be high drama and plenty of backstabbing and warring personalities. Especially throwing in at least one psychopath. But I was also happy to discover camaraderie and common goals among the character cast as well.
I struggled a great deal with the set up of this story, but if you're able to work past that issue, can find Tella (the MC) endearing and are able to place the story into the "fun" and "entrainment" category in your head, you will likely enjoy in this book.
Let's talk about my concessions to enjoying this story.
1) If world building is most important to you, this book might not be for you. But if you can handle a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, you may love this.
I almost didn't make it very far into this book because of the very little set up it provides. Fire & Flood is much more focused on the action/game experience than creating a believable context for the story. Or at least, that's what it seems at first. Because of this, not much world building given at the start. I had so many questions about what was happening that I really wanted to slow down and figure out. But all of a sudden Tella is starting this competition called the Brimstone Bleed and off we go. It was too fast and too unbelievable.
I also personally struggle in current books when the parents have banned all forms of technology to "protect" their children. When the book begins, Tella is living in nowhere Montana with her parents and brother. They moved there and got rid of all technology, because they thought their life in Boston was too much for Cody's mysterious illnesss. That's not a huge part of the overall story, but it affects Tella's initial information flow. The "strict parents banning the outside world" plot always feels like an unrealistic crutch to me in modern books. It was a little too much like a set up for an installment of The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (has anyone else seen that movie?).
As for time period context, this story seems to be taking place in present day, but that's mostly a guess. In reality, it's not completely clear. I even saw a tweet where a Scholastic publisher called it "dystopian" which further confused me. By the end of this book more details come out about what is going on in this competition, and it become a lot clearer, but I still struggled with buying it as anything other than pure fantasy. which it is, I guess.
2) If you think you are Katniss incarnate, this book probably isn't for you. But if you think you might be a survivalist failure, you'll probably enjoy this story.
Tella is a typical girl and she wants you to know it. She likes make-up and nail polish and doesn't like to be dirty. She has no natural survival skills, and besides her determination, is pretty helpless
3) If you don't mind your damsels in distress, this romance is going to work for you.
I always like a romance, no matter where a book is set. Fire & Flood has one too. I completely understand why Tella latched onto her fellow Contender Guy (yes, that's his name!). It's clear early in the book that he has a natural talent for adapting to high stress wilderness situations, and she does not. Her attachment to him is a simple case of survivor of the fittest. I don't blame her for following him and seeking his protection, or for thinking he's hot.
What was much less clear to me for most of the story, was where Guy's mutual interest and affection came from. Unless he likes those damsel types, which clearly he does. Tella didn't have much going for her in the beginning, and he rescues her a fair bit throughout the course of this entire story. She literally wouldn't have survived without him. Even so, as Tella began to exhibit more determination and will to make it, I started to believe in their connection. And she does fight some of her own battles by the end of this book. Maybe one of Guy's many talents is locating the proverbial diamond in the rough in girl form.
4) If you like animal companions, you will love the pandoras.
One of my favorite elements of this story, was also the one that tipped it completely into the fantasy category. The pandoras were definitely a highlight of the book, but I just couldn't buy into the reality of their creation. Still, they made this book more exciting and surprising. Everyone competing in the Brimstone Bleed gets their own animal pandora to help them survive. Tella chooses Madox, who is adorable and fierce as well as one of the best parts of this story. His abilities are also what get her attention from other Contenders, some of it unwanted. Sadly, some characters in this book are not as kind to their companions as Tella is, and that was one of the hardest parts for me to read. But I think Tella's love and support of animals is one of her strongest attributes, and it pays off in this book.
I realize that my thoughts on Fire & Flood are silly in places, and I did struggle with several aspects of the plot, especially the world building and romance. Still, I was entertained by the story and by the inside of Tella's head.
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - definitely a midpoint of the story. But a low stress moment. As far as I know, this series is planned as a trilogy