Killing Me Slowly

A leopardess who learned how to dance. And read.
Wildefire - Karsten Knight Wildefire was a book of hits and misses for me - on one hand, I can appreciate what it tries to do, and when I turn my critiquing brain off, I can enjoy its enthusiastic action, its endless supply of snappy come-backs, its premise, and its heroine, a girl who isn't afraid of kicking some ass and getting her hands dirty. Seriously, after reading Fallen, a book made of none of those things - in fact, a book that was made of the exact opposite of those things - I was primed to love something like as active as Wildefire. The trouble is, having finished it, the more I sit back and think about Wildefire, the more fail begins to show through.

It's all in a strange balance though - for everything I liked about Wildefire, there's a related bone I have to pick. So for the sake of my getting my shit in order, we're gonna tackle these issues in pairs.

What I Liked: the plot
So, yeah, five very special teenagers coming together to fulfill their destiny and save the world, not exactly a new concept, but Knight took a handful of cliches and gave them a slick and shiny new paint job. We've got a story teeming with drama, with reincarnated gods and goddesses from around the world, sibling rivalries as old as time, and a loose-canon heroine with a psychotic older sister who may or may not genuinely give a shit about her. We've got a blind siren with the ability to call gods and goddesses together, who comes bearing scrolls with cryptic, destiny-outlining instructions for each of them (I don't know why I love that trope, but for some reason the "what does this mean, and what did everyone else's say?" tension gets me every time).

We've got a shady mercenary force in pursuit of the gods on behalf of an eccentric billionaire who wants revenge, and finally, we've got omnipresent gelatinous hive-minded supernatural creatures that may or may not be killing off gods little by little - permanently. I mean really, what good action cliche doesn't this book have?

What I Didn't: the execution
The trouble is, while all these ideas were presented - and many set up to be series-long recurring subplots - very little of it was developed. I'll get more into the specifics as we go along, but for now, let's just say it all felt very...shallow. The further I got along into the book, the more it reminded me of a high-budget Hollywood popcorn action movie - one designed to show an audience a good time and let them feel like they're experiencing something more complex and thoughtful and unique than they actually are. There is something inherently unrealistic and off-putting about the story that unfolds, and the characters that populate it; their lives, their actions, and their reactions only work in the fairy-tale world they inhabit, where school principals impotently watch fights between students in the parking lot, loving parents let their kids go to a boarding school across the country by themselves on a whim, and bartenders are friendly with the groups of underaged kids that drink in their facilities. It's a world where complex, multifunctional mythological figures can be distilled into one distinguishing trait and recognizable power, and where "officially" learning that you're a god makes you instantly capable of skillfully wielding said power.

And that's all fine for a two-hour-long movie, I guess, but when I read a book, I want something with more complexity and depth. I want characters with flaws that aren't supposed to be charming or enviable. I want more than a token gesture here and there at moral ambiguity and character development. I want a book, not a screenplay-in-the-making...

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