June 2, 2012

Review: Firelight by Sophie Jordan

Firelight by Sophie Jordan
Published: 2010 by HarperTeen
Series: Firelight, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book

Safe. Safe. Safe.
That word comes up a lot with Mom. Safety. It’s everything. It’s led me to this. Leaving the pride, killing my draki, avoiding the boy who saved my life, the boy who awakened my draki in the midst of this scorched sea – the boy I want very much to know.
Can’t she understand? What good is safety if you're dead inside? 

Jacinda has been told she's special ever since she first manifested. She is a draki, a descendent of dragons that can shift between human and dragon-like forms. Not only that, but she transforms into a fire-breathing draki, the first one to appear in generations. Jacinda and her mother and twin sister Tamra live in the mountains with their draki pride, where Jacinda's not quite satisfied with her life. She bristles against the pride's restrictions that are supposed to keep everyone safe from humans and also against her impending marriage to Cassian, son of the current leader.

After nearly being killed by a group of draki hunters on one of her rebellious excursions away from her pride, Jacinda's life gets turned upside-down. Jacinda's mother tells her that they can no longer stay with the pride, so she and her mother and sister try to create a new home in a desert city, living among humans and pretending to be human. While her mother allowed her inner draki to die and Tamra's draki never manifested, Jacinda cannot adapt to the new world so easily. She knows her mother wants her inner draki to die, so that Jacinda can also become more or less fully human, but Jacinda is willing to go to great lengths to ensure that doesn't happen.

I did enjoy Jordan's focus on identity and self-worth. Jacinda definitely struggles with those issues throughout the novel. She is unhappy to be identified simply as the fire-breathing draki by her pride. Yet she does consider her draki to form an integral part of who she is. Allowing her draki to wither and die in the desert, as her mother did herself years ago, is not something Jacinda can imagine doing.

With that in mind, I had a really hard time digesting her mother's attempts to "protect" Jacinda. Through the course of the novel more information is revealed about the pride's plans for Jacinda and how it definitely does not have Jacinda's best interests at heart. But I honestly felt like the mother doesn't have Jacinda's best interests at heart either. The mother has her other daughter Tamra's best interests in mind, and her own, but definitely not Jacinda's. It was awful for me to read how nonchalantly the mother explains to Jacinda that everything would be better after Jacinda's draki dies. Even after Jacinda explains repeatedly how her draki is a part of her, that by her draki dying an essential part of herself would die as well. This is just awful parenting in my book. And it frustrated me to no end how Jacinda tries to justify her mother's decision and wants to give her sister and mother the chance to live a normal life. Apparently compromise just doesn't exist? This aspect of the novel was just all sorts of messed up for me.

Jacinda understands how bad it is for her to spend time with Will, the human boy with whom she forms a strange attachment. Yes for a protagonist who is self-aware in the face of raging hormones! She recognizes Will as her savior from a hunter attack and is interested in the fact that her inner draki stirs in his presence, which is fine. I get that. But her main reason for wanting to be near to him has to do with her own self-preservation. Somehow being near Will revives her inner draki. Jacinda spends so much of the book explaining how much her draki is a part of her, so I found myself understanding her desire to be around Will. Especially since her family is doing everything possible to get her draki to die. 

But Jordan ruins the relationship a little for me when Jacinda admits later that even if Will didn't help revive her draki, she'd still want to be around him. Never mind that his family still poses an enormous threat to her family and her pride. As I read the book, I actually found myself being strongly reminded of the first Twilight book. Maybe I am reading too much into this comparison, but I found the whole idea of the female protagonist who simply cannot help falling for a mysterious, handsome male who is extremely dangerous to her well-being just a little eye roll inducing.

I also don't think the hunters had as much of an impact on me as they should have. They're supposedly hell-bent on the destruction of the draki race. The novel sets up a really terrifying game of cat-and-mouse in the beginning scene between Jacinda and the hunters and then nothing really happens. Jacinda mentions a few times all the pain and death the hunters have inflicted upon the draki, but I want more. I still have no idea how the hunters know of the existence of the draki, or why they want to systematically destroy them all. (Yes, there is one scene that's a little disturbing. But it just wasn't enough for me to really understand the dynamics between the hunters and draki.)

Firelight had the potential to be something great. Right now the YA market is inundated with all sorts of paranormal beings, but dragons seem to be a sector that isn't explored quite as much – possibly because dragons are most decidedly not human. From the beginning, therefore, I loved what I heard about Firelight. Humanoid dragon descendents called draki living in our world but hidden from humans? Yes, please! Unfortunately, the story is rife with YA paranormal romance clich├ęs, which makes it difficult for me to really appreciate the story as an effort to create something new for the YA paranormal genre. 
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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