I am so pleased to welcome Sarah Rees Brennan to the blog today, in anticipation of the release of her latest book, Tell the Wind and Fire. and thank her for answering my question about the book. My thanks as well to Raincoast Books for the opportunity to participate!
In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.
Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised. Lucie alone knows the young men’s deadly connection, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.
Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?
You’ve described the book as a modern retelling of A Tale of Two Cities (but with magic). Since this happens to be one of my favourite all-time books, I have to ask: Are you a Mme Defarge? A Sydney Carton? A Charles Darnay? A Lucie Manette? Who do you most identify with and what traits do you feel you have translated into the new story?
I’m going to have to be all of them at different times: Charles is trying to be good,
Sydney despairs of being good, Lucie just IS good, and the world has been so cruel to Mme
Defarge that goodness has been burned out of her, and I tried to reflect all those
qualities in Ethan, Carwyn, Lucie and Leila.
Of course, I was very frustrated by Lucie. Lucie in the book wasn’t frustrated, insofar
as we know—we get very little of her point of view, and in fact it’s only years after
her marriage that we get a scene that confirmed for me she loves her husband—but the
way she was seen frustrated me. She’s the good girl, so she is seen as living for
others, while Mme Defarge gets to be angry, complicated human being. I wanted to write
Lucie as being as frustrated by her role as I was, reading about her.
In the end, I’ll go with being Mme Defarge before noon (I MUST HAVE VENGEEEEANCE!) and Sydney at 5 pm (surely it’s time for a drink?)
While this has been described as a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, there’s a marked difference in Sarah Rees Brennan’s style; unlike Dickens, she doesn’t need to serialize her story for effect, so jumps right in with the introduction of Lucie, Ethan and the mysterious doppelgänger Carwyn. Through their encounter with Carwyn we are also introduced to the worlds of Light and Dark in the new New York, but like any sharply divided society, the shades of grey are always the most dangerous and intriguing.
As with every book I read by Sarah Rees Brennan, I’m always drawn in by the world building. Here, she’s taken the familiar, exciting world of Manhattan and added an extra dimension of Light and Dark; they have a strange, symbiotic relationship and each constantly struggles for control of the other. Descriptions such as the cages evoke medieval imagery, and the doppelgänger’s black hoods only serve to reinforce that sense of wildness and barely held control. Family relationships are never what they seem, and the duplicity of human nature actually takes a physical form.
What made the book for me, however, was the characters. I will say that, just as with the original, it’s the double that intrigues me the most. Carwyn is snarky and mysterious and dark and deliciously evil in every way His interactions with Lucie are some of my favourites, and the narrative burns up when they snark at each other:
“Doppleganger,” he said. “Created pitiless and soulless to wander the earth tormenting mortals. Sort of my thing.”
“You torment mortals with dumb sexual innuendo?”
“I’m also a teenage boy. You work with what you have.”
“I just don’t think cheese belongs on a dessert,” Carwyn said. “I think it’s weird and gross. Those are my principles. Okay, that’s my one principle. I like mayhem and bloodshed and deviant sex acts. I disapprove of cheese.”
C’MON. How can you not feel some affection for him after that?
I will say that the storyline became much darker than I anticipated, and that it was done well to reflect the increasing oppression and restlessness. Lucie is an interesting narrator, because you realize quite early in the book that she’s not being entirely truthful with anyone – including us, the reader. She can be a little heavy-handed in her foreshadowing during her recount; I think SRB does an excellent job simply through her narration and the voice-over of doom and gloom is not always necessary. Lucie is a far more complex character than her Dickens’ compatriot, with guile and talents and a deep, abiding affection for family that leads to some very significant decisions that resonate long after. I appreciated that she recognized the strength that she needed to keep going, day after day, and to present the “right” view to everyone. “How can I be fragile and do everything I have to do?” she asks, and it’s a powerful moment for her as a character.
“Consider this,” I said. “When a girl sits and smiles and is silent, you can decide you know her, but that does not mean that you do. Don’t read into my silences or my smiles. Don’t assume that you know a thing about me.”
Indeed, within the book overall there are many powerful moments, especially of the Manhattanhenge and the descriptions of the cages, and they stayed with me long after I finished the book.
You’ll notice I’m not saying much about the plot, and that’s deliberate. I do believe that you need to experience this one for yourself, and that even the smallest details could change your point of view. I’m not trying to be mysterious, but I do hope that this will catch your interest enough to want to read further – don’t let the rollercoaster start put you off, as there’s a lot of information handed out at the beginning. The emotions alone will hold you fast, and you won’t be able to wait until the end.
Tell the Wind and Fire will be released on April 5th by Clarion Books, and distributed by Raincoast Books in Canada. it is available for preorder via Amazon, Indigo and your favourite indie bookseller. ISBN: 9780544318175, 368 pages