Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift
Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.
Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who’s mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.
Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery’s most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.
Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross…and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.
Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery’s fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it’s complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED JANUARY 19TH, 2021
Adraa and Jatin have not met in nine years, but their arranged marriage looms, along with a new threat to their kingdoms, and a new facet to their relationship.
For nine years, Adraa and Jatin have exchanged letters as a betrothed couple. Hiding in those letters, though, have been hints of magical competition, each trying to outdo the other’s magical achievements while simultaneously avoiding the pending marriage their parents set up for them as children. Their competitive streaks run high, and when they finally meet again, it’s under false names in a bid to make Belwar a safer place.
In trying to secure the kingdom and do right by the people, Adraa and Jatin must face powerful spellcasters, a threat that runs deeper than anticipated, and worst of all, their own securities. And they must do all of this while trying to resist falling in love outside the bounds of the marriage they are expected to complete soon.
Of course, this is a YA fantasy novel with headstrong leads and magic in spades. I don’t think I have to tell you that nothing goes quite according to plan!
In a word, Cast in Firelight is energetic!
From the start, I actually loved the tone of the book. In some ways, the fast-paced narration and personal chapter titles reminded me of Percy Jackson. While not quite as oddball and witty as PJO, they have a sort of fire and life to them that reminds you this story is about a couple of eighteen year old kids trying to shoulder the responsibilities of whole countries. They’re in over their heads and doing their best, and they’ve also got some pretty strong feelings to grapple with at the same time. It’s a recipe for confusion, especially on an emotional level.
But it also makes it fun! While I’m not normally a fan of things that seem to fall under the category of insta-love, Adraa and Jatin’s relationship was still a blast. Masquerading as Jaya and Kalyan, they meet as equals with shared purpose, and interact outside of societal expectations in a way that feels genuine. That feeling is freeing for both of them, and results in some fun banter and closeness that made their stories enjoyable.
Of course, I could have done without some of the intentional miscommunication. You can only drag out lying about your identity for so long.
And this fast, lively narration also seemed to do the world-building a disservice. As much as I loved the characterization, I feel like we lost a lot in terms of the world. The kingdoms are apparently close enough that flying between them takes an hour for a skilled magic-user? The gods’ blessing is the source of magic, which comes in nine varieties? Only royalty can master all nine varieties of magic?
(The gods’ names are all English words spelled backwards? I admit I rolled my eyes at this.)
Basically, I think there’s a lot more of Wickery that I’d like to see. There’s a lot we missed because of how close and personal the narration is, and how much it centers on Adraa and Jatin in relation to each other, without a deeper look at their friends and families. Gain one thing and lose another, in essence.
I expect some folks will be concerned that this is not an OwnVoices story, though, which is understandable.
The author is white, and fully acknowledges that. However, she also married into an Indian-American family, and says in her acknowledgements that the world of Wickery is meant to be a world her future children can see themselves in. That’s not to say it’s perfect representation (I’m not Indian, so I can’t speak to the quality of Indian culture that Cast in Firelight features), but it strikes me as coming from a more sincere and respectful place than just selecting a South Asian source of cultural inspiration on a whim. Stories by Indian authors still deserve front and center attention, that is entirely true, but this does not feel as exploitative as people might assume from just looking at Dana Swift’s author photo.
I figured this was worth mentioning, particularly for anyone who was under the impression that this book was an OwnVoices title. I also hope publishing realizes that marketing this as a title comparable to books like We Hunt the Flame and An Ember in the Ashes takes advantage of the work of authors of color to prop up a white woman’s book, which I am less thrilled with than Dana Swift writing a book featuring a culture she has close personal ties with.
Cast in Firelight is a fun, speedy read, and a solid debut!
It releases this coming Tuesday, January 19th, and if you’re a fan of PJO or rivals to lovers stories, this might just be a read you need to check out! It’s enjoyable and a quick read, two qualities that gave it the power to break my reading slump. For that alone, I think, I have to commend it. Reading slumps are tricky things to shake!
Slump talk aside, I do think Cast in Firelight is a bright addition to shelves, and I hope it receives some love as it releases. Sometimes, I think enjoyable goes a long way beyond perfect, and this is a splendid case of that.
CW: loss of a loved one, drug use, addiction, violence, animal death, gore, sexual harassment