For a Muse of Fire (For a Muse of Fire #1)
By: Heidi Heilig
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in a new trilogy from Heidi Heilig.
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.
Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.
I was lucky enough to end up at one of the Epic Reads tour stops, and got to see Heidi Heilig, Ibi Zoboi and Kirsten Ciccatore all talk (and then get my books signed afterwards). Although I had barely heard of any of these authors before, my attention was immediately caught by Heidi’s description of her story, her frank discussion of living with bipolar disorder and her desperation for medicine that mirrored Jetta’s. I made myself finish the rest of the books I’d been reading before jumping into Muse of Fire–but when I finally allowed myself to start I DEVOURED it. I’m not sure I can write a better review than this one by Alex Brown, who in Heidi’s own words made her realize what the book was about. But I still want to try.
Jetta and her parents are touring shadows performers, under the name of the Nos Rai, with one goal: to impress the king enough to get on a boat to Aquitan, the country that colonized theirs but also has a cure for Jetta’s malheur (bipolar disorder). But at the same time, their success is based on a secret: Jetta makes the shadow puppets work by imbuing them with the souls of dead animals, necromancy that would get her killed by either Chakrans or Aquitans. After their accidental involvement in a rebel attack, however, Jetta and her family are forced to rely on Leo, a smuggler who is of mixed heritage, to still fulfill their goal of getting to Aquitan.
As you can tell, this is definitely a book about colonialism: Aquitan is France, whereas Chakrana is implied to be southeast asia–the area of Cambodia and Vietnam, which actually was invaded by France. Jetta and her family’s quest is set at a time of high tension–rebel groups are rising in prominence, the army is instigating a brutal inquisition in return, and the very opportunity for them to visit Aquitan is because the general of the Aquitan forces is marrying his daughter to the young heir of the old Chakran dynasty. Jetta and her family try to be unmoved by this, to only focus on their goal, but ultimately get caught up in this chaos all the same.
But what truly caught my attention is Jetta. Partially due to her malheur and partially just due to her nature, she’s fiery, impulsive, clever and quick. She’s aiming for a goal, and she’s determined to achieve it–partially out of a desperation and desire to help herself. But she’s also kind, loyal, and wanting to do the right thing. But she also has multiple secrets, including the fact that she’s a necromancer who can see and work with the souls of the dead. Alex Brown did an excellent job of discussing how this plays into Jetta’s malheur–and she even says that she thought the spirits were just another hallucination at first. But I ADORED this magic and how Jetta used it, never (intentionally) harmfully and usually just to help herself.
She’s also dedicated to her family, who are also very willing to support her, and even when old secrets come to light she still puts them first and foremost. I really appreciated that–especially because there are so few parents in YA, and so few good ones (you can argue about why that is, I won’t), I really loved that Jetta has two loving parents who she is close to.
Leo is also a captivating figure. He’s a brothel owner, the son of a Chakran woman and an Aquitan man (who, spoiler alert, is a fairly well-known figure), and a smuggler who’s only out for his own profit–at least, until he meets Jetta. It’s hard to say whether Jetta gets caught up in Leo’s mess or vice versa, but they get thrown together and never quite manage to escape, until neither of them want to anymore. Another interesting point is that Leo’s mother also suffered from a similar malheur and ultimately killed herself, so he’s both deeply sympathetic to Jetta’s illness and equally dedicated to getting her help.
But there were so many elements that I couldn’t get enough of. The magic! The shadow puppets! The rich history of Chakrana and how it played into the story! The exploration of bipolar disorder in a time before it was widely known or understood, let alone treatable! The examination of the evils of colonialism! Please just get me the next book very soon, so I can dive back into this world.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.