September 22, 2014

Review: Firebug by Lish McBride

Firebug by Lish McBride
Series: Firebug, #1
Published: September 23, 2014, Henry Holt and Co. BYR
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
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Ava possesses the unique ability to set things on fire with her mind. In her world, she’s referred to as a firebug and considered to be a highly desirable magical being. Her mother, another firebug, was essentially an indentured hitwoman by a magical mafia-like group known as the Coterie and fled to protect Ava from living the same sort of life. She failed and was killed, and Ava has been bound up in the same sort of service for the past few years.

As much as Ava dislikes being a pawn of the Coterie and its leader Venus, a power-hungry vampire, at least she’s been able to lead a somewhat normal teenage existence, living with her mother’s friend, attending high school, and working with her two best friends on Coterie missions. When Ava’s next target is supposed to be another family friend, however, it provides the push Ava needs to finally rebel against the organization that has controlled her life for too long.

Firebug is, most of all, a really fun read. In it, McBride has imagined an alternate world where magical beings coexist with nonmagical ones, nonmagical ones being more or less unaware of just how diverse their world really is. Ava is a firebug, her best friends Lock and Ezra are a half-dryad and were-fox (because wolves are not the only form into which humans can shift), respectively. The Coterie is led by Venus, a vampire, who is assisted by Owen, another firebug. Trolls, succubus, vodyanoy, selkies, and other magical beings also share their world, although none of those really make an appearance in the novel. Ava’s uniquely rare power apparently makes her the most desirable of all the magical beings, at least in the eyes of the Coterie.

The nuances of this world are not fully developed, but it’s an interesting start. I especially liked the way in which Ava’s firebug abilities are simply another aspect of her characterization. Her ability to create fires may be cool, but it comes with some physical and psychological implications that Ava must learn how to deal with. The presence of Owen, a hardened firebug who has no problem as seeing nonmagical beings as beneath him, acts as a foil to Ava’s more compassionate struggles to do what is right and not harm others more than necessary.

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed myself more as the story progressed. After an initial dismay being thrown into a world where I was given little information in terms of its mechanics and history, I eventually came to realize that sort of information was secondary to other, more powerful aspects of family and friendship.

It was just Ava and her mother growing up; she doesn’t even know the identity of her father. So after her mother died, Ava went to Cade, her mother’s nonmagical friend who had taken them in before and was completely accepting of their extra-human qualities. Ava’s relationship with Cade, and the sacrifices the two makes for each other, is really at the heart of this story. Cade has selflessly turned his life around for Ava, and she’s willing to do the same for him. Cade represents security for Ava, but also the belief that she’s capable of doing good. They may not be related, but they’re a family nonetheless.

Of course, any mention of Ava’s family is incomplete without mentioning Ezra and Lock. The three of them form a practically perfect team, despite the fact they’re working for an evil organization. They may express themselves in different ways, but they’re ultimately supportive and understanding of each other in a way that wouldn’t be possible with nonmagical beings. And they share some fantastic banter.

The story moves rather quickly; in fact, it appears to take place over the span of about a week or so. It’s amazing what the characters go through in such a short time, but the short time also stretched the limits of believability for me (as much as they could be stretched in this magical world). Some of the themes and relationships developed here lose a bit of their power in viewing how they are introduced and addressed within a few short days. But maybe that’s just me.

Although Ava begins to see the world in shades of gray by the end of the novel, the story is told from her perspective and the majority of the characters are seen in black or white, which makes it seem a bit simplistic at times. I wanted more depth in both the villains and Ava’s world in general. But that’s something I can hope for in future installments.

Overall, this was a fun read. It was a bit too black and white for my tastes, wasn’t a defined enough world, and lacked that essential spark that made it truly memorable, but it’s still a light, fast, and humorous read with some great messages about family.

Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: I received this review copy from Netgalley on behalf of the publisher, but that in no way affected my opinion.

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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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