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For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
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For a Muse of Fire

by Heidi Heilig

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1232153,676 (3.58)4
"Jetta, a teen who possesses secret, forbidden powers, must gain access to a hidden spring and negotiate a world roiling with intrigue and the beginnings of war"--

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I'm really into the narrative techniques, setting, and characterizations Heidi Heilig uses in For a Muse of Fire, but the plot didn't really do much for me. I think I would have liked it a lot more in a different place or time, but in October 2018, I was only a mostly-right reader for this book.

To talk about the authorial choices - I admire Heilig a lot for what she does here, and find the style of the book to be fun and compelling. It's a mixed POV narrative that takes cues from epistolary novels where each POV uses a different technique. The main narrative is a direct first-person story, a secondary narrative to provide contrast to the first uses stage directions and dialogue, and an explicative narrative to clarify things happening beyong the first-person POV uses letters and telegrams. There's even a repeating element of sheet music and song that felt like yet another narrative or pov, though we only see the sheet music two or three times.

Since the main character is a shadow puppetteer and her adventuring partner is the owner/operator of a burlesque theatre, these narrative choices are highly suitable. The contrast of four narrative styles, each with its own role to play in the story, also plays against the colonial themes. The styles with the most depth and force of detail (the sheet music and first-person pov) both stem from the colonized people. Therefore, the person whose parents are both colonized and colonizer is a little more removed - the stage drama - and the coldest and least personable letters come from the colonizers themselves, the ones who are inciting war and riots. It sounds a little trite to describe it this way, but I did appreciate the nuances. The colonizers, the military men, don't really care about the people in the land they wish to own, after all.

This is not a nice story. It is about colonization, oppression, and the way a subjugated people react. It's also a story about living with mental illness and what that means in a fantasy world where necromantic magic is a thing that exists - and what happens when someone has the magic to see and manipulate ghosts, and also suffers mental illness, and also lands right in the middle of the guerrilla dispute of her people against the oppressive regime. There are references to death, rape, suicide, murder, depictions of some of the same, and generally anger and ugliness suffuse many of the characters' motivations. It's not for nothing that Heilig insisted on a Content Note in the forematter, which I greatly appreciated. I was able to prepare myself to expect far more graphic and intense scenes than were presented - though they were still unsettling. Some of the descriptions of the main character's manic or depressive moods were uncomfortable in their familiarity.

(I have to confess...I don't actually remember any of the character's names, about 2 months after reading. I barely knew the main character's name while I was reading, because of the first-person POV and little need to use names in the dialogue.)

The environment in the book is rich and vivid. It's inspired by 19th century southeast Asia, particularly the French colonies, and uses French-inspired or actual French words just as other fantasy stories use their own made-up languages. The history of the colony and magic is complex and felt like it could have been a real thing, or people thought it was real in 1865. I wish I could have been reading a story more suited to my own mood at the time, one with more justice and coziness. There is much violence, but it's a realism sort of thing, the first skirmish in a long war, and the bad guys don't get their comeuppance here.

And as a final paragraph, to discuss the plot itself - it is the Girl Knows Injustice, Joins a Rebellion general idea. She meets up with a boy along the way and falls in love (or at least develops a crush), there's a ragged band of rebels, and evildoer ruler and minions. This one is livened by the addition of ghost spirits that the girl puts into her puppets to make them move (a dire secret) and side characters from the burlesque (plus, of course, the gorgeously detailed setting).

I like the book okay, really enjoy the authorial choices outside of the plot, and think it's a great addition to bookshelves. But I wasn't the right reader at the time, and I'm not sure if I'll take a chance on the next in the series. (But I might, if only to see how Heilig continues the narrative styles, and if she adds to them.) ( )
  keristars | Dec 21, 2018 |
Well paced fantasy in an analog French Indochine of the late 19th century. Jetta is a young shadow puppeteer with extraordinary abilities, that she must hide at all costs, though she must use them in her puppetry to impress the Colonial military leader and the local puppet Boy King to obtain passage to to a miraculous spring that will cure her bipolar disorder. Jetta's high phases are distinguished as being the most danger to her and it proves so, but while this book is not free from many of the usual tropes of young female protagonist fantasy, it is different in it's roots. ( )
1 vote quondame | Nov 20, 2018 |
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