Author: Karsten Knight.
Publisher: Simon and Schuster.
Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): 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.
Cover impressions: Over the past few years, in the wake of the sparkle madness, we’ve seen a wide variety of paranormal mythologies saturate the YA market to the point where much of it has become derivative, overdone and frankly, a little dull. To find something original in the market is always pleasant, so a novel centred around a reincarnated Polynesian goddess was automatically a must read for me. So far, my GoodReads friends have been mixed in their opinions on the novel, so I will have to be the dull one here and fall right in the middle.
Ashline is a great protagonist. She’s often stubborn and incredibly sarcastic – the banter she shares with her friends is a particular highlight of the book – and makes stupid mistakes, but she also suffers with consequences and has to learn how to mature and figure out what to do with her life and newfound destiny. Her relationship with her friends, family and the culture clash she has known through her whole life made her an often complex but always interesting heroine. This was also an instance where the obligatory romantic element didn’t bother me so much; she and Colt had great chemistry, actually took time to get to know one another and didn’t spend all their time obsessing over one another.
Aside from Ashline, the supporting cast ranges from good to bad in terms of development. Her group of close friends and fellow gods were especially humorous and their interactions made for some of the best parts of the novel. They actually felt like teenagers, not adults in smaller bodies, and their own personal journeys, while handled a little clumsily (the prose is serviceable but nothing particularly groundbreaking), brought further layers to the mythological elements, another high point in the book. However, I had a strong dislike (and not in the way the author intended) to Eve, Ash’s sister. She was a straight up sociopath with nothing beyond her two dimensional destruction and selfishness. I can understand what Knight’s intentions were with the character, and there are hints of bigger repercussions in her relationship with Ash, but they were overwhelmed by her psychotic behaviour. The moments where she is supposed to develop beyond this felt hollow, making her ultimately an underwhelming antagonist to the story. Another possible antagonist is introduced late into the novel who is even more two dimensional than Eve, complete with Bond villain style exposition of her past, but she’s dropped almost immediately.
From the first chapter, the book grabs you and is paced to keep you invested in the mystery, rushed ending aside. However, this opening may also put off many readers because of its violence. There is a lot of violence in the novel (as well as casual use of the term 'bitch', which everyone called almost every girl at some point) and it verged dangerously close to being gratuitous for me. I can understand the inherently violent nature of the gods and goddesses, and their struggles to keep control over their strange, burgeoning powers, but the characters often take a disappointingly flippant view of this violence which I found to be grating as the novel progressed. The opening chapter’s fight was a particularly bad example of this – I don’t care how violent or peaceful your neighbourhood is, there is absolutely no way you’d only get one week’s suspension from school for that sort of fight. The fact that this fight takes place over a boy didn’t please me much either. As well as the violent elements, I felt that the group accepted their fates a little too quickly, and seemed to take control of their powers with the same unrealistic speed.
While I didn’t love “Wildefire” in quite the same way many of my reviewer friends did, it was refreshing to read a paranormal YA with unique mythos, a strong, complex female protagonist and a circle of friends with witty interactions who actually cared about one another and did more than act as plot devices. Now that the first part of the story is told, I hope Karsten Knight can further develop a great story free deserving of that killer cliff-hanger, which will leave you both infuriated and waiting for more.
"Wildefire" will be available in USA on July 26th. I received my e-ARC from Simon and Schuster's Galley Grab.