Book review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Publication date: 26 February 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Dystopian | Young Adult

Page extent: 384 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads blurb: 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?

***

We have been truly blessed in 2019 with sapphic enemies-to-lovers YA and We Set the Dark on Fire is no different!! This was a thrilling and touching tale about borders and immigration, fighting for justice and falling in love when you least expect it. 

Dani is top of her class at the Medio School for Girls. There she and other girls train to be Primera and Segunda wives to the top men in Medio. Primeras look after the household, Segundas take care of the children. Dani is the top Primera in her class. She is awaiting graduation day where she will be married to one of the most powerful sons on the island, Mateo Garcia. But Dani has a secret. Years ago, her parents took her on a perilous journey, forging identification papers and climbing over the wall that separates the outer islanders with Medio’s citizens. Those on the outside starve and beg, and Dani’s parents risked everything to escape that life. She has kept this secret for years, but now on the eve of her graduation, it threatens to come to light. To keep it secret, she accepts help from the resistance group La Voz, and finds herself blackmailed into helping them spy on her new husband. But with the Segunda wife, Carmen, watching her every move, Dani needs to use all her intelligence to stay safe.

The characters really shine is this fast paced, tense novel. Dani, our MC, is so brilliant. She is incredibly smart and driven, so observant and really uses her skills throughout the book. Her internal thoughts felt so real and I loved seeing her slowly embrace her emotions, going against all of her training to do so, as she fell further into both love and the resistance. Carmen was equally enthralling. She seemed to shine on every page, a reflection of Dani’s wonder at her, and I just love the mystery about her. Every moment these two are on page together is magical, and I think the writing of the book really felt amplified when they were together. There are some really beautiful passages. The entire romance was drawn out exceptionally well, and the progression itself from their hatred to love felt real and not rushed at all. These two are possibly one of my favourite f/f couples I’ve ever read. They each complement the other so well, and their feelings are so obvious and beautiful, I love them!! 

“On the outside, she was frozen, but inside her, whole cities were being razed to the ground. Explosions were shaking the walls of her stomach. People were screaming in her throat.”

I equally loved some of the side characters. Senora Garcia struck me as particularly strong and well written. She really intrigued me and I loved how she used her role to be as powerful as her husband. I did feel the women were all more well rounded and well written than the men. The Garcia men were understandably power hungry, angry and controlling. You could feel their power through the page and it felt very familiar of our current world, but they did feel a little one dimensional. I wasn’t hugely keen on Sota either, who again felt a little one dimensional and less well developed.

Equally familiar was the world building, which made this novel very successful. It is immediately reminiscent of current political ideologies regarding immigration and the privilege being on one side of a boundary (or in a certain country) brings. The lead up from peaceful protest to violence, the way the powerful military faked events to retain control, were all extremely realistic and brought a very current atmosphere to the book.

“Think about all the crimes your precious government condones, not just the ones they punish. Then you can talk to me about who the real criminals are. If we’re not all free, none of us are free. You remember that.”

We Set the Dark on Fire was tense and thrilling with lots of action and mystery, and on top of all that it had a fantastic and very realistic enemies-to-lovers f/f romance play out. I am so excited for February when the sequel is released, which will be written from CARMEN’s POV and I can’t wait!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

2 thoughts on “Book review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

  1. […] I absolutely adored this YA fantasy when I read it last year, and I really need to read the sequel! This is a book set in Medio, an island world where women are trained to be Primera (wives to help running the household) or Segunda (wives to have the kids). Dani and Carmen are rivals at the prestigious school and have been chosen to marry the same man. So of course they go and fall in love with each other instead of their husband. But Dani has a secret. When she was young, her parents forged papers and snuck her across the border wall into Medio. When she is asked to spy on her husband for a resistance group, Dani needs to decide whether to keep the privilege her parents sacrifice gave her, or to fight for a free Medio for all. It’s such a relevant book, the similarity to the US/Mexico border is undeniable. This is a book about resistance and fighting for what’s right, and is definitely one I wish more people were reading because it is fantastic. You can read my full review here. […]

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  2. […] This book is one of my favourite YA fantasies and as it’s a genre I’ve been struggling with recently, that means it is extra, extra special!! This is such a relevant and uncomfortabley familiar book about illegal immigrants crossing walls into Medio, an island city. Dani illegally crossed the border with her parents but is now at the Medio School for Girls where, hiding her past, she is top of her class. At the school women are trained to be wives for important men, Primera’s and Segunda’s. Each man chooses two girls to be his wives – and in We Set the Dark on Fire, two wives fall in love with each other instead of their husband. It’s slowburn sapphic fire, a book full of revolution and courage, a must read for YA dystopian readers. You can read my full review here. […]

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