A THOUSAND FIRES
I stayed awake until four in the morning reading A Thousand Fires, and for the first time in history, the loss of sleep wasn’t worth it. A Thousand Fires was, in one word, underwhelming. For a book that has a unique plot and the start of interesting characters, it fell flat in so many areas. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Valerie Simmons will join the gang that helps her get revenge. She can survive one year in the city's gang war if it means justice for the murder of her little brother. When she's recruited and joins the Stags, the most mysterious gang of the three in the city, she signs up for a life she might not have been ready for. But for her little brother, to find out who killed him, she'll leave her friends and family behind, she'll become a new person and forge new ties with the members of the Stags, and she'll do what's necessary to stay alive and seek vengeance.
For 90% of the book, I had high hopes. I was really interested in the plot of gang wars, of characters being recruited into one to serve for one year, of the heroine getting revenge for the senseless murder of her little brother. I was hoping that the development of the characters would be deeper, the plot would wrap up in a really satisfying way, and I'd be left yearning for a sequel. But that, my friends, is not what happened here.
A Thousand Fires is supposed to be a loose retelling of the Iliad, but it took a bit (a lot) of a stretch for me to connect the dots. I suppose I can see Jax as Achilles and Val as Odysseus, but overall, neither character really lives up to their inspiration. We never find out why teenagers are recruited at 18 and why they only need to serve one year (though I'm guessing it's a tie into military service years? But even then, that's longer, and if this is truly an Iliad retelling, Odysseus is at war for ten years...) The characters in general don't live up to the hype or expectations. Their development is superficial, the dark topics that are broached repeatedly are flicked away and forgotten, and the relationships fall so short they'd be better off as nonexistent. I don't feel that depression or self-harm are done justice in these pages. They're serious topics that are used as devices without background information or resolution. They're almost written as "character traits" not signs of trauma. Jax and Val's relationship is questionable at best and there's a huge plot-hole. He's supposedly watched her for years (creepy) and is invested in her enough to recruit her and help her get the revenge she desperately needs, but we never find out why he watched her, why he cares so much, or what it means. I'd let this go if it were mentioned once, but it comes up several times in the pages, even near the ending.
Which, while we're on it, the ending is where the biggest letdown lies. The buildup of the gang wars, the buildup of the rival characters, the buildup of the little brother's death, everything is finished quickly in about 20 pages. It's possibly one of the most anti-climactic endings I've ever read. A Thousand Fires took the easy way out when it comes to resolution and endings. I don't need a happy ending in fiction, but this was hardly an ending at all. Key characters die in a wussy shoot-out, one main character just up and disappears, and the others just...move on as thought nothing has happened, as though the city hasn't been ravaged by gang violence for years. The end.
Despite what the jacket cover and blurbs say, A Thousand Fires is not gritty, brutal, or thrilling. If you're looking for an exciting take on gang wars with a heroine who's strong and admirable or characters you'll remember, you won't find that here either. Overall, an underwhelming retelling and disappointing read.
Rating: 2/5 stars