ARC Review: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini


title:  Trial by Fire

author:  Josephine Angelini

pages: 374

format: Paperback 

isbn/asin: 978-1250050885

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 2/5 [in the genre] or 4/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Twilight by Stephanie Meyers or the Trylle series by Amanda Hocking.  Lovers of witchcraft and romance.  

will i read this author again?:  Eh, maybe. 
will i continue the series?:  No. 
My Ratings Explained

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

the basics
I hate little more than having to write a less than complimentary review, particularly for  a book I'd so highly anticipated.  Trial by Fire was a promising book that just didn't work for me.  It begins well enough, with teenage puppy love, a frustrating betrayal, and a seemingly deadly allergy attack--that ends in another world, of course.  There are sections of wonderfully witty dialogue and unique creatures.  I found the magic system very unique and interesting, with the caveat I'll mention below.  Yet, I didn't love it.  I found myself slogging through it, in fact.  The plot seemed to drag along in sections, move too quickly in others.  Lily was sort of dull, the main villain was largely absent, and I can scarcely remember the other characters--except for new-world Juliette, who was loyal and brave.  If I don't feel tension in the plot, I must connect with the characters.  The lack of either made this a slow read, despite an intriguing premise and solid writing.  I think other people would enjoy this book--there's a lot to love--but for me, it'll remain in that strange memory limbo between notably bad and remarkably good.  

plot . 2/5
The thrust of the plot was exciting, but the elements were arranged and sized in a way that undermined any sense of conflict.  The book begins with Tristan's betrayal and Lily being tricked across worlds.  It's a snappy beginning that immediately had me hooked.  Then, it sort of piddles along from there.  It's not that the main plan always needs to be inserted before page 60.  Take Harry Potter.  Half the fun of the first book was the whimsical discovery of the wizarding world.  Flamel was a hint early on, but the truth of Voldemort's plan wasn't revealed until much later.  Here, however, it's almost halfway before anything has really been accomplished other than discovering that hunky Rowan hates her on sight.  (Don't worry, they fall in love in a few days.)  Then it's about two thirds through when we find out the whole magic vs science problem, which is basically the main reason people are fighting the big bad villain Witch.  Then suddenly bad things are happening to good people and magic is flying everywhere.  I don't mean to be overly snarky, but it was just exasperating for a book with such promise to feel so draggy.  

concept . 4/5
The concept was fascinating, a girl with deadly allergies transported to another world where the things that once hurt her give her power.  Cool, right?  Only the execution struck me as another shade of strange.  Witches are called Crucibles because they serve that function in a literal sense; inside of them, energies and elements mix, producing strange powers.  I could have liked that concept, if not for the strangely sexualized manner in which it plays out.  It's also irritatingly easy.  Lily is scarcely in new Salem for a day before she's performed her first spell, a tricky one at that.  Given that magic is so easy and the villain and minions so absent, there's little to be excited about for much of the first half.  I loved the idea of willstones and energy transmutation and witch bonding, but the conceptual richness of the magic system wasn't enough to overcome the conceptual lack of clarity regarding the villain Witch and her mission.  

characters . 3/5
Honestly, the characters remind me greatly of Twilight.  Perhaps that's part of my relatively negative reaction to them.  Lily, despite being fiercely redheaded and ferociously allergic to life, is otherwise sort of bland.  I didn't feel a sense of energy from her discoveries, emotions I could cling to.  More of her thoughts dwelt on Rowan and his inexplicable hatred of her (and her newfound longing for him) than on the implications of magic and the world of people seeking her death.  Rowan was typically handsome and a little surly, of course with a hidden gentleness.  I did like Tristan, though he was somewhat typical.  His debaucherous ways and snark added some verve.  I can hardly comment on the others because they were props strewn in.  The winner was Juliet, Lily's otherworld sister, who proved herself brave, knowledgeable, and emotionally conflicted.  If she'd taken Lily's place, this might be a very different review.  

style . 3.5/5
Angelini's style was promising.  It didn't wow me with its evocative diction or sharp metaphors, but it was solid and truly hysterical at times.  There was a point where Rowan mused over the conventions of language in Lily's Salem (the phrase "It sucks," to be specific) that actually had me laughing.  The dialogue felt realistic, and the progress of the story wasn't overwhelmed by excessive descriptions.  What lacked was a genuine voice for the characters, something that set them apart.  

mechanics . 2/5
Again, I must return to the pacing.  There are many books that, despite mediocre writing and flat characters, are enjoyable because of their tight plots.  Even when not much is happening, there's a tension that tips you over the precipice of each page, forcing you to read on to seek relief.  Trial by Fire has conflict, it has a set-up, but there's not enough tension.  Even the slow parts of the book could have easily been exciting if there was a time pressure, if I felt that evil Lily might assail them at any moment.  I didn't feel this sense of danger until near the end, when my opinion was already well formed.  

take home message
Trial by Fire's languid plot and thin characters fail to deliver on the promise of its richly imagined magical premise.  

Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  

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