Fantastical Worlds Can Be Found in Our Own History // For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

ForaMuseofFireTitle: For a Muse of Fire
Position: Book One in the For a Muse of Fire series
Author: Heidi Heilig (The Girl From Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time)
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 512
Rating: 4/5

A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in a new trilogy from the acclaimed Heidi Heilig blends traditional storytelling with ephemera for a lush, page-turning tale of escape and rebellion. For a Muse of Fire will captivate fans of Sabaa Tahir, Leigh Bardugo, and Renée Ahdieh.

Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.

Heidi Heilig creates a vivid, rich world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism. Her characters are equally complex and nuanced, including the bipolar heroine. Told from Jetta’s first-person point-of-view, as well as chapters written as play scripts and ephemera such as telegrams and letters, For a Muse of Fire is an engrossing journey that weaves magic, simmering romance, and the deep bonds of family with the high stakes of epic adventure.

This book wasn’t what I expected – I’m not quite sure what I expected, other than a new book from the author of the Girl From Everywhere duology, but it was both odd and fascinating. The author’s note at the end of this book talked about how the book was inspired by some real life countries and cultures, such as France and Southeast Asia, and how it was also so different that it was very clearly a fantasy world of its own. I think that’s a perfect metaphor for this book: it’s both something and not that thing at all (if that sounds like I disliked it, you’re wrong).

This book took a while for me to read, mainly because I was reading a lot of other books at the time. Even though it’s roughly 500 pages long, it goes fast, partly because of the unique formatting in between regular chapters: we have real sheet music for songs (which, unfortunately, I didn’t understand at all, because I learned beginning piano ages ago and otherwise just played the drums, which have less complex sheet music – at least, they do at the beginning stage), some letters and telegrams, and a look at what other characters are doing in the form of play acts and scenes. Otherwise, this was the story of Jetta.

Jetta has bipolar disorder; we almost never see mental health issues in books in general, but seeing them in fantasy stories is even rarer. Too many authors think that, because their fantasy worlds are separate from our own, they can ignore real life problems from our own world, like racism, sexism, and, of course, mental health and neurodiversity. This book manages to address both Jetta’s bipolar disorder (called malheur here – that might be a typo on my part, because I’ve had to return the library book before I could write up this review) and how her country, inspired in some ways by Southeast Asia, is affected by the colonization by a France-esque country and its continued occupation. The world was decidedly fantasy, different than our own, but it had its roots in our own, which is how fantasy works best (saying this as a reader who doesn’t reach for fantasy books as much as paranormal, contemporary, and mystery books).

I had some small problems with this story, but they were small. One problem I can have with fantasy books in general is the way you’re thrown into this unknown world and have to play catchup with all of the new terms and locations. Because I was also trying to connect everything with real-world countries and customs, it made it even harder to keep track of some things, but that’s obviously on me. I also felt like some aspects were rushed, even though the book was so long. I liked the romance, but it definitely fell prey to the rushed feeling of the book. I look forward to seeing it developed more in the second book, as well as the world at large.

Despite some minor problems and the fact that it took me so long to read this epic new fantasy, I was decidedly a fan. I want to see more from Heilig in both the future books in this series as well as more books in general, especially if they managed to incorporate real life issues as well as she has here.

Stars40

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