Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
I tried very, very hard in high school English to read Dickens. I hated Dora. I loathed David. I wanted to smack Uriah Heep (but then, didn't everyone). I hated Our Mutual Friend. I had no luck with finding anything compatible in the voice, in the characterizations, nothing. And then I read A Tale of Two Cities.
It remains my favorite Dickens novel of all time; I was hooked, the moment I read those beautiful, lyrical words, was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
I probably had to read that six times to get it. But then, I did. And I was in.
Suffice it to say, I was a little wary when I read that Sarah Rees Brennan did a modern version of my favorite Dickens novel... very wary indeed.
Synopsis: The Light part of the City is where the ones who practice Light magic live - it comes from the natural world. The Dark part of the City is walled - to keep the Dark magicians close, but not too close. The Light needs the Dark to survive - to drain the sediment of the Light from their blood, lest they die. But how disgusting, to take blood for a living, to drink it? There are too many of them, and their half of the city is squalid -- buried, is what they call living there. There's never enough food, and there is violence. But, they're a necessary evil, even the doppelgangers; the result of a Light spell to save the life of a Light magician. That illegal spell actually creates a Dark magician - one who wears the Light magician's face. They're hooded, collared, hidden. Another necessary evil -- hated, but needed.
Lucie Manette knows better than to say how she truly feels about the state of things in her world. She lives in the Light now, she's a Light magician, but she was born buried -- born in the Dark. Once, to save the life of one she loved, she made a spectacle of herself, a spectacle the Light was unable to ignore, and one that no one has ever forgotten. Lucie's a celebrity now, has a doting boyfriend of the ruling family, and knows that only her silent, smiling compliance saved her father's life, and keeps him - and the life she now lives - safe. Everything is in balance now; she can almost relax and believe in the loveliness that Ethan has brought to her world ... but one slip, one mistake, one wrong move, and suddenly, it's all up in smoke. Ethan has secrets, too -- secrets Lucie would never, ever have guessed. Heartbroken and in a rage, she sets before him the impossible task of making everything right again. But, nobody can. It seems that nothing can stop the revolution -- but Lucie has to stay one step ahead of the mob if she is to once again save her heart.
Observations: This was a hugely risky novel, but I feel like Sarah Rees Brennan was one of the few writers who could have pulled it off. As she says in her author's note, "Fantasy is a tool for talking about the real world," and this novel does indeed hold our gaze to a messed up, tragic world that is created and maintained by both hope and fear -- and cause us to ponder a better system that could make something of it.
A magical dystopia was the perfect setting for a novel the reader could view a little more dispassionately than something set in the now. And a dispassionate view is necessary, when reading both the Dickens and this modern retelling of A Tale of Two Cities. Knowing the history of the French Revolution you know -- spoiler alert - that blood will run in the streets. Some of the characters in the beginning of the novel will necessarily not be there by the end. Who, though? How can Lucie save anyone?
In the violent, angry, dark and breathtakingly cruel society which has spilled to both sides of this Dark/Light divided New York, what is WORTH saving? Like Dickens' classic, this book allows the reader to lose oneself in the story... and also in some pretty deep thinking.
Conclusion: A novel that has a lot in common with the Dickens it gives a hat tip to -- but will probably be a lot easier to read than the original novel for many teens. Difficult, complex and troubling, this is a story of lies and sacrifice, and when it's time to start lying about them.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of my public library. You can find TELL THE WIND AND FIRE by Sarah Rees Brennan at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!