Author: Karsten Knight
Series: Wildefire #1
Cover Art: N/A
Genre: Paranormal YA
Reviewed by: Julia
Making out, references to sex.
Every flame begins with a spark.
Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.
Gods and goddesses reborn are not a brand-new concept in YA, but compared to others I’ve read with these plot elements, WILDEFIRE has just a little bit more of everything. More complex characters, more drinking, more pantheons of gods, more violence… While some of these “mores” work better for me than others in a YA, they all added up to a memorable and enjoyable read.
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of this book were the reactions it generated, keeping me thinking and processing long after I’ve put it down. The violence in WILDEFIRE starts in the school yard. While I never saw a fistfight of any kind in high school (and in reality I’m sure I’d be horrified), there was a big part of me that applauded the purity of a fist to the face over the emotional stab of verbal belittling. This reaction troubled me, all throughout and after reading the book. The Wilde sisters are no wilting flowers, and the women in this book are as likely to slug it out as any of the boys (if not more so). With any other Urban Fantasy heroine I wouldn’t think twice about the main character using her fists to get the last word, but framing this fight between teens in a parking lot knocked me back a bit. Thought I still found Knight’s deft mix of real life with comic-book violence to be thought provoking, and I enjoyed getting a new angle on something that I had started to gloss right over in other books.
Alongside the violence were portrayals of underage drinking and references to sex, which did not bother me in context (these students read more like college kids than high-schoolers, I often had to remind myself of their actual age). These scenes do, however, have me hesitating to recommend this book to any of the teens that I know. These characters are making real-world decisions as they play out their other-worldly drama, and all of the magic in the world couldn’t make me comfortable with how casually these choices were made. There is no content in this book that is so over the top inappropriate that I would be horrified if a teen picked it up on their own, but at the same time, I don’t want to tacitly approve this behavior by handing WILDEFIRE to any of the teens in my life.
My hang-ups about recommending this book to teens aside, I enjoyed WILDEFIRE immensely. With Eve as the representative of one faction and Princess Monanoke-esque forest monsters on the other side, I’m having as much difficulty as Ash deciding who to root for, an ambiguity that I loved. As visual as the violence is all throughout, it was no surprise that the end of WILDEFIRE read like a killer (if predictable) season finale. I, for one, will definitely be tuning in for “season two.”