In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.
Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.
It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.
Discovering new favourite books can sometimes feel like finally releasing a long breath – you’ve been waiting for it, you feel like life has returned to you, and you feel invigorated. The relief and satisfaction of discovering and reading A Spark of White Fire cannot be described by words. It is a science-fiction space opera, inspired by the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, and follows a lost princess who infiltrates the circles of those who stole her family’s crown, only to realise that they may not be as wicked as she once believed. I’m in awe, friends. A Spark of White Fire is thoroughly brilliant, and I hope my book review will convince you to pick up this new YA SF gem.
An Inspired Story about Family and Fighting Fate
There are many things that I love about A Spark of White Fire – the brilliant characters, realised and wonderful setting, the political intrigue and possible betrayal at every turn that had me biting my nails (all of which I’ll elaborate on later). Perhaps the most compelling thing, and most indicative of this book’s brilliance, is its inspired story and fantastic execution of its themes. Indeed, A Spark of White Fire examines family from a refreshing angle, as it examines how Esmae, the lost princess that we follow across the story, plans to return her exiled brother to the throne. Despite Esmae’s desperate longing to reunite with the family she never knew, the challenges and unexpected turns during her journey will challenge her, and force her to question all she has believed for most of her life. In essence, A Spark of White Fire examines the allegiances and loyalties that people possess, how loyalties are tested and broken, and the things that we do and sacrifice for our families.
Paired with Mandanna’s splendid and poetic writing, perhaps the most compelling part of A Spark of White Fire is how it explores the duality of fate versus free will, and how the two may not be as mutually exclusive as we may think. Integral in the story are poetic prophecies, forewarnings, and foresight to what may happen in the future – things that may indicate that destiny is a fixed and immutable thing. However, the story explores how Esmae tries to fight the cards fate – or the gods and goddesses, I should say – have dealt her, and the extent and limits of her own free will. I liked how the book oscillates between the two, and examines the implications of believing in one or the either on the characters in the story.
A Brilliant Blend of Fantasy and Space Opera with Gods Playing Favourites
The setting was another memorable aspect of the book. Within the story is a history and genealogy of the world and universe, and I loved the realised and wonderful details of the world in A Spark of White Fire. In particular, I loved Madanna’s wonderful imagery and rendering of a science-fiction world, filled with technological advancements and kingdoms built on spaceships, but also fantastical elements, such as planets filled with mythical monsters and celestial weapons. I loved the integration of Indian folklore in the story, and although I’m not familiar with enough to fully appreciate the references or nods to the stories, I certainly appreciated the influences across the story.
However, one of my favourite things in the book – perhaps, it is the favourite thing – was how the gods and goddesses of the world meddle in human affairs. Within the world of A Spark of White Fire, humans go about their business, their politics, their wars, and their motivations, but gods and goddesses, for all their divine fury and power, too had their own wars and own motivations. In this world, gods and goddesses play favourites, and they’ll do what they must to get what they want, even if it means divine intervention and manipulating humans with power. This added a layer of intrigue to the story, as I was curious to see how the divine would react, what they would do, and, to be honest, was pretty excited to see them unleash their fury upon someone.
Unexpected and Developed Characters, Driven by Political Intrigue
A Spark of White Fire boasts a spectacular and memorable cast of characters whom I absolutely adored. I loved Esmae as a protagonist; she was brilliant, calculating, sharp, and passionate, but underneath she is lonely, vulnerable and yearns deeply for the love of her family and to call a place home. And then there’s Max, my unexpected favourite character, the adopted son of Esmae’s family’s enemy. Although I expected him to be as cruel and ruthless as Esmae’s expects, he was… not. And that, and his characterisation, was such a lovely surprise for me. I also loved kind and soft Rama; determined Alexi; the Goddess of War, Amba, who favourites Esmae; and the side characters also made meaningful contributions to the story. Above all though, my favourite character in A Spark of White Fire was Titania, the sentient warship built by the gods and is thus unbeatable in battle. The kicker? She’s not bloodthirsty at all and just wants to spend her existence flying and exploring the universe. I LOVE HER.
Although the characters are brilliant, they are tested, challenged, and their developments driven by the political intrigue and complex family ties across the story. I loved reading about the intricate web of grudges and loyalties and unbreakable vows to whom and deep-seated fears, and how they shaped the trajectory of the story. More interesting and compelling is how Esmae, once an outsider and person unknown to the powers that be, navigates the family politics, infiltrates whom she presumes to be her enemy, wins their trust, but feels torn by the choices she has yet to make and where her allegiances lie. Indeed, the Esmae’s story, and character development, is brilliantly told, and I cannot wait to see what happens in the sequel, A House of Rage and Sorrow.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I loved this book, friends. A Spark of White Fire is a rare gem, valuable and a brilliant addition to diverse space fantasy, and I’ll sing this book’s praises until everyone reads it. I haven’t enjoyed a book from the very first word to its very last in a long time, and it is certainly a gem in YA science-fiction fantasy. An absolutely must-read.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A lost princess devises a plan to reunite with her exiled twin-brother, win the crown, and fight alongside him to win back the throne – except her plans go awry.
Perfect for: Readers who love retellings and mythology; readers who love space fantasies and space operas; readers who love stories with gods who meddle with human affairs.
Think twice if: You’re not a big science-fiction fan or interested in space operas.
Genre: young adult science-fiction fantasy
Trigger/content warning: attempted murder, murder, abandonment, war, blood, death of a loved one.
It’s so refreshing to finally read a book that just clicked with me – outstanding narrative voice, inspired storytelling, great characters, and a plot that was hopelessly compelling. I love that I’m reading even more YA diverse space operas now, and I particularly cannot wait for the sequel, A House of Rage and Sorrow.
- Have you read A Spark of White Fire? If so, what did you think?
- What is your favourite or most creative retelling that you have read?
- What is you favourite space opera or space fantasy story?