by Josephine Angelini
Read: May 28 - 30, 2014
Published: September 2, 2014 by Feiwel &Friends
Source: ARC from Macmillan - Thank you!
Category: Alternate reality, witches, Salem, Mass. sci-fi, YA
Series: The Worldwalker trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository
This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted...which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily's life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.
Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem - one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian . . . Lily's identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences.
Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn't understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected.
But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?
Josephine Angelini writes some addicting stories. I wasn't sure how the witches + alt reality set up of this story would work out for me, but I ended up liking Trial by Fire a lot. I definitely couldn't put it down. Plus it's always fun to read a story that takes place in your backyard.
Set-up. Lily lives in present day Salem, Massachusetts, where her life is a daily struggle to survive a compounding amount of environmental and food allergies. It doesn't help that her mom is a little crazy and her dad is pretty much absent. But she has the constant support of her sister Juliet and her best friend Tristan. Lily has been interested in Tristan as more than a friend for quite a while, and it finally seems like he's noticing her. But after a disastrous night at a high school party, which almost kills her, Lily gets transported to a different Salem, Massachusetts. One filled with magic and witches, all ruled by an alternate version of her, Lillian. Only this girl is the villain in the tale.
Parallel worlds. I generally avoid parallel world/alternate reality books like the plague. Mostly, because the main character is typically in the head of multiple versions of herself and that means love triangles and confusion for me. So I appreciated that the characters in each of these realities were distinct individuals. Although the story feels very contemporary high school when Lily is in her Salem, once she travels to the alternate New Salem, the story becomes something different entirely. I loved meeting the alternate versions of characters we'd known before, as well as new people too. It's definitely an interesting nature vs. nurture debate to see what other versions of people have become.
Still, I did have trouble in places seeing Lillian as an evil villain. We don't spend a lot of time with her, and she rarely interacts with Lily. We also don't get her full motives or plans. I think also, because she was a version of Lily, I sympathized with her. Or at least felt like I didn't fully understand her enough to judge her, and I gave her some slack, despite the awful things she'd done. But all that also served to make the story and her character more compelling too, and it's one of the reasons this book was so very intriguing. I can't wait to see where her character goes in the future.
Magic. The New Salem to which Lily is transported is a place ruled by witches who wield incredible magic. The difference between men and women's abilities and how their talents work together is fascinating. Although all people have some magic in them, women are the most powerful, and Lily is one of the strongest. The strength of her ability has to do with why her Salem was physically killing her. But Lily, like other female witches, works best when her magic is projected through others. She also needs Mechanics (doctors/healers for witches) like Rowan to keep her healthy. Oh Rowan. We will get to him next.
Romance. [I'm going to outline this for those who like these details. Not major plot spoilers, but I'm candid about the romantic elements.] I would not consider this story to have any sort of Love Triangle, although it is a bit of of a progression in the beginning. It's clear pretty quickly that Tristan is not a great match for Lily, and I don't think there is any threat of that relationship reviving in any future world. Especially, after she meets Rowan in the alternate Salem.
Rowan used to be Lillian's head Mechanic and how he hates her for very valid reasons. Then he meets Lily who is a version of Lillian but also is very much not her, and he dislikes her on sight. I really liked the way that Lily and Rowan's relationship starts off antagonistically and takes time to build slowly over the course of the book, as they discover who each other is. Even by the end they are not trying to rush anything, which hopefully will mean that the author won't introduce an awkward triangle in future books to add tension (I hate when that happens).
However, just as I had trouble seeing Lillian as an evil villain, I struggled with the Lillian - Rowan - Lily situation. It's very clear that Rowan and Lillian once had a relationship. I don't think that Rowan would ever go back to Lillian, but it is a little awkward watching him move on to another version of her. I want to know more about how much his feelings for Lily are wrapped in Lillian - and see them separate from that. This lessened as the book continued, and I think the romance has potential to be very strong and epic as it continues. But it was uncomfortable at times, though that's also a reason why it intrigued me.
Cliffhangers. The end of this book is especially exciting. I really, really liked the direction it took, and that has made me quite impatient for the next installment. It's one of those cliffhangers that makes you eager to keep reading, instead of stressed out. It's also a good breaking point in the series.
Final thoughts. I read Trial by Fire a few weeks ago, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since. There was something incredibly compelling about this story for me. It's funny because the romance made me slightly uncomfortable, and I was't completely sold on the villain. But those elements somehow combined to make me more excited about what happens next. I want to know a lot more about these characters and I'm eager to get back into this story.
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - more exciting/anticipatory than stressful. A good breaking point.