Sarah Rees Brennan gives a new take on a classic tale in TELL THE WIND AND FIRE!
There’s nothing quite like a good story retelling: It provides new perspective, dismantles old tropes, and if you’re familiar with the original story, it can make you fall in love all over again. However, there’s also a tricky part to retellings: Keeping a story that’s already been told fresh in the eyes of readers. Authors writing retellings have the difficult task of making audiences forget that they know where to story is going, letting them just enjoy the ride until they hit a major moment makes them remember. Sarah Rees Brennan’s Tell The Wind And Fire is no exception– It presents a new take on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in a magical fantasy version of New York City. While it’s an amazing world and a captivating story, it does have some retelling pitfalls.
Three years ago, Lucie Manette became a symbol of hope, transferred from the Dark city of New York to the Light side of the city after a careful, public plan to save her father. Lucie has always been a Light magician, but she was raised in the Dark city. But she’s left her family and her nightmares behind and started a new life. She gets by mostly thanks to her relationship with Ethan Stryker, the careful, loving teen who happens to be from the most powerful family in Light New York.
Then it all starts to unravel. When Ethan’s life is threatened by rumors of treason, Lucie discovers that he has had a doppelganger– an exact copy created through Dark magic to save a person’s life– since infancy. The revelation would destroy the reputation of his family. The doppelganger, Carwyn, has been legally sent to the Light city, his identity hidden under the required hood that marks him as a soulless double, face hidden from the public. Still, his presence threatens the power of the Stryker family. The only person with any sort of sympathy toward Carwyn is Lucie, who knows the terrors of the Dark city and doesn’t believe he’s a lesser human being.
In the midst of it all, a revolution is stirring; a revolution that believes Lucie is a captive pawn of the Light and iconic proof that those born in the Dark need to rise up.
If there’s one thing Sarah Rees Brennan does brilliantly in this novel, it’s that she puts women on top. While she often a pawn in other people’s plans, Lucie Manette is not a meek bystander and she certainly has plans of her own. We wished she was a little more proactive at times, but her reasons for staying out of the limelight were often understandable. She was also raised in both the Dark and Light cities by two fierce, street-smart women– one a little more misguided, perhaps, than the other.
When it comes to the character relationships, we wanted to see more. Lucie and Ethan have a wonderful relationship in which they make each other better and truly seem to be equals. However, it felt like there was a lot of telling rather than showing when it came down to how good they were together. While we see the sacrifices they’re willing to make for each other that certainly require dedication, there’s not much in the way of simple, loving moments in the present reality of the novel. There’s also another man willing to dedicate himself to Lucie: Carwyn. The doppelganger got all of Sarah Rees Brennan’s signature snark and it fueled a very amusing love-hate relationship. The scenes with Carwyn were definitely some of the most interesting in the novel. We understand how he was deeply moved by Lucie’s compassion, even though he didn’t feel safe enough to be himself around her and is difficult around her.
Now, here comes the retelling trouble that made it hard for us to score this book too high: It just felt far too familiar. The setting changed and fantasy was added in, but the bones of the story were rigid. Where many retellings seem to use the original work as a suggestion affecting things here and there, A Tales Of Two Cities was the rule of law in Tell The Wind And Fire. There were only a couple points where we felt any true sense of surprise, both involving Carwyn. Magic and its effects on users are a massive element of the world-building, but we rarely see it used outside one major scene. And while Lucie’s main dilemma has settled by the end of the novel with an effective twist added in for extra feels, there are still plenty of unsolved issues that simply aren’t addressed. It worked for the original novel thanks to historical context, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying here.
Tell The Wind And Fire is a solid book that Sarah Rees Brennan lovers will definitely enjoy, but in an era of extremely inventive retellings, it just didn’t separate itself from its inspiration as much as we’d hoped it would.
Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5 Stars
Tell The Wind And Fire is out on April 5, 2016. You can pre-order it now.