A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu MandannaA Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
Series: The Celestial Trilogy #1
Published by Sky Pony Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 311
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.

Publishing can have a fairly short memory. If an author disappears for more than a year or two (and they’re not John Green), name recognition will go down, and it will likely be harder to sell more books, on top of whatever made it difficult to not follow the every year or every other year plan. I read Sangu Mandanna’s debut novel back in 2012, The Lost Girl, and I really liked it, but I honestly don’t remember anything about it. Don’t read too much into that, because it was six years ago, and I’ve read well over 1000 books since that time. You probably wouldn’t remember either. Still, I remembered that and, when I saw this egalley, I requested it (even though tbh I normally wouldn’t go for Sky Pony) because the concept sounded boss and I had some trust already in Mandanna. And, hey, guess what?! Mandanna’s new series opener did not disappoint.

Initially, I’ll admit I was a little bit unsure. The opening of the book is a bit rocky and a lot confusing. If you start this, I’d make sure to give it at least until Esmae gets to Kali before deciding it’s not for you. There’s a bit of a learning curve here. If I hadn’t had Jessie’s word for how good this was, I might have DNFed and missed out on a great and inventive book, which is why I want to make sure you too are so informed.

The reason the book’s a bit slow out of the gate is because there’s a lot of back story to this world and, rather than info dumping at the start, Mandanna basically dumps you into the world and expects you to learn to swim. (Pretend this metaphor works for me, okay?) After a few chapters, things will start to make more sense, but at first it’s jarring because A Spark of White Fire isn’t like any other science fiction or fantasy, so you can’t lean on knowledge of similar stories (even I can’t and I read A LOT).

The world building of A Spark of White Fire is my favorite aspect of this book, because it’s so unique and creative. First off, it’s a blend of science fiction and fantasy, which has happened before certainly but I’ve never seen it like this. A Spark of White Fire takes place in space, with the cast all on spaceships. Normal. However, add to the tradition science fiction about warring monarchies a massive pantheon of gods and goddesses who like to interfere in the lives of their favorite people. Think Illuminae meets the Mahabharata or The Iliad (if, like me you’re unfortunately not knowledgeable about the Mahabharata) and you’ll be pretty close to the vibe of A Spark of White Fire.

Mandanna makes great use of all of this, and the gods really throw the traditional sci fi rules out of the window in this really fascinating way. The heroine, Esmae, wins an unbeatable spaceship at the outset, a gift from a god. She also received her own gift: a flower that protects her from physical harm. Another character has a bow that fires arrows that never miss their target. All of this is on top of all the methods of violence humans can dream up, and it takes an already complicated political situation and makes it ridiculously complex and dangerous. The way that Mandanna plays with prophecy is fun too, which is saying something because I usually hate fantasy with prophecies.

The plot is very strong overall, though admittedly the pacing can be a bit uneven. When it first opened, I expected the story to be largely about the competition for the unbeatable spaceship, and Mandanna subverted my expectations immediately. The story drifts a little bit after that as Esmae goes to Kali and gets to know the people on the chessboard. At many points, the plot evolved in ways I didn’t expect and characters reacted to things in unstereotypical ways, so that was fantastic. Even the fact that Esmae is royalty doesn’t get played for a plot twist, which is amazing because that trope is so overdone.

Esmae’s a strong character, and I bonded with her right off. The moment she felt too awkward to go talk to her twin brother in the first scene and instead made things more difficult and dramatic, I was like ‘yeah, I get that.’ Esmae has both physical fighting skills and mental ones, and I love that, though she won a competition about battle skill, she has no interest in war. All she wants is love and family. Her emotional arc works very well too, with her being torn between her brothers, who she wanted to aid in retaking the throne, and the usurpers, who she expected to hate but who turn out to be nice people.

The characterization of the secondary characters did let the fantastic foundations down somewhat. My heart goes out to Max the most of the rest of the cast, but, even with him, I don’t feel like I know him particularly well. I enjoyed Esmae’s outspoken great grandmother, who would absolutely be played by Maggie Smith. Everyone else ran a bit flat, particularly Esmae’s brothers and Rama. View Spoiler »

With that intense ending, I need book two something fierce. I recommend A Spark of White Fire to readers of SFF who are feeling tired of traditional tropes and want something unique and inventive that’s diverse af with many powerful female characters.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

There are no lightsabers in this but this gif was too amazing to not use

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