A World of Us Versus Them: Review of Tell the Wind and Fire



Set in New York City, Sarah Rees Brennan’s Tell the Wind and Fire is a dystopian novel in which two worlds, the Dark and the Light are pitted against each other. In the afterword, the author relates about how Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities contributed to the development of Tell the Wind and Fire. I have not read A Tale of Two Cities, though now I will at some point, but Brennan’s tale could also have been set in Berlin. Since the end of WWII until 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, Berlin had been split in two, divided against itself. East Germans until the erection of the wall in 1961 en mass made their way to West Germany, to safety, away from the USSR. Then the wall was erected and like that in Tell the Wind and Fire, people tried to leave though the effort was made more perilous. There was always hope, even if the cost that must be paid was death.

Along with the dystopian themes, there are elements of magic: rings and swords infused with light, the illegal creation of doppelgangers (the cost when a person is spared death), drinking of magical blood, and execution cages that are reminiscent of the medieval torture device, the Iron Maiden that serve to not only to crush a person but also to draw out their magic.

There is also love, romantic, familial, and platonic, at work. Love is the guiding force of Tell the Wind and Fire. It serves to bring out the best in Lucie, Ethan, and Ethan’s doppelganger, Carwyn. It is what brings Lucie’s father back to life, enabling him to fight for his daughter and the love of her life, Ethan. Love is also what shows Lucie that Carwyn has a soul. Love is the motivating force to bring the two halves of the city, Light and Dark, back together even as Light and Dark forces make war in their quest to dominate the other. That is the power of love, of civilization that is founded on and lives on honesty. It is a morality where life is precious, where society operates so people do not feel as if they are mere faceless nameless cogs in a wheel serving an all powerful, all-in-control government.

The back half of the novel is far better than the first half. Part of that is unfamiliar terminology and necessary world building by the author. Part of it though was caused by trying to figure out how Lucie, Ethan, and Carwyn fit together. An earlier introduction of their relationships would have made for a more cohesive, clearer story without violating the rule against introducing back story in too early. At times, it was hard to tell who was speaking, but slowing down, re-reading those passages helped.There was one character that I wished could have been more developed — Nadiya, Lucie and Ethan’s friend. Other than that, the narrative flows at the right speed and there is nothing that I saw that should have not been there.

****Copy provided by publisher on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.