We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia – DNF Book Review

Is it just me being super picky or am I having really bad luck with books lately? I thought it was just the books but perhaps I’m not in the mood for this genre, or something? I’m grasping at straws as to why I’ve had some really low book ratings lately. It makes me feel awful to rate them so low but on the other hand… I’m being honest.

I was really looking forward to reading We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. I mean it’s steeped in feminism, latinx own-author cultural influences and what sounded like a really intriguing premise. Ultimately though… it’s just so boring. I’ve been picking this one up and putting it down so many times lately that I’ve finally decided to just put an end to it and finish off with a DNF.

Synopsis:

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society: Primera’s and Segundas. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, respectively. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

The political machinations and rebellion in this book were what had initially drawn my attention, along with the beautifully vibrant cover. Set in a dystopian LatinX society, the stark difference between poverty and wealthy was incredibly clear. I was excited to read about Dani’s role in influencing change and braving the dangers of being a rebel inside the strong hold of the politically prejudiced leaders.

What I got instead? A few small rebellious events on Dani’s behalf and a lot of writing concerning her psyche and conflicted emotional state in the build up to those events. Why should she sacrifice her well-earned, illegally created livelihood for those in the poorest part of the country? Despite her upbringing from that very same area. I mean… I get wanting to be safe but all the internal angst being repeated after ever small rebellious event she conspired in got tiring. Especially as once she had decided to rebel it was like her fears were magically gone? The they’d pop back up again after another 50 pages though… I lost patience haha.

The actual writing was decent in this book (if only the pace being really slow) but I couldn’t connect with the characters and for me that’s a deal breaker in books (almost always). Dani set me on edge. I get that she was trained to be a Primera and that they value above everything else being unemotional, capable women. I understand the feminist angle this book was taking but it felt like the characters were shut inside their little boxes and were incapable of doing anything outside of what they had been ‘trained to do’.

I mean, the character Carmen was trained to be the loving wife and woman who would bear and raise children. Therefore it was seen as almost impossible by Dani that she would ‘critically observe those around her’ simply because she hadn’t been trained to do so. I mean… the toxic environment these women were living in meant that you had to be on your guard. How is it hard to imagine that the Segunda’s would also have their own best interests at heart??? Training does not always override natural instinct.

Anyway, I tried to finish this book but eventually felt like I was taking away time from other books that I was genuinely eager to read and enjoying. I DNF at 50%. If you don’t mind a slow book that is very character driven and enjoy reading about rebellion and dystopian LatinX then I think this book is still one worth trying. The writing is done pretty well and if you end up enjoying the characters then I think you’d enjoy this book overall.

Jen