In this fresh and sensual take on being who you are and following your heart, Firelight is the first YA novel from romance novelist Sophie Jordan. Jacinda is a draki -- descended from dragons and capable of manifesting into human form, but her draki within longs for more flight and freedom than her pride allows. Those Hunters who track dragons do not know about their true nature and ability to shift into human form, which is their race's greatest secret and protection, and yet their way of life is constantly threatened. (Jacinda's own father was likely killed by Hunters, having disappeared years before.) Jacinda is under close watch because she is the first fire-breather in generations and her life has practically been mapped out for her. Slated to mate with the pride leader's son and hopefully breed more fire-breathers, Jacinda is already chafing from the restrictions of pride life when her ability to have any say is threatened after a close-call with hunters nearly has her captured. And she would have been captured, too, if the young hunter who ultimately caught up with her would have given her away, but for some reason he lied and let her go free. The pride will not be so forgiving, though, that she broke the rules and put herself in jeopardy... and Jacinda's mother decides that they should flee rather than let the pride dictate Jacinda's life.

The thing is, it's easier for Jacinda's mother and twin sister to give up life in the pride, even if Jacinda is the one whose life and liberty is most threatened. Her sister, Tamra, never manifested and her mother let her own draki die so Tamra wouldn't feel alone. (Evidently by refusing to manifest or by being in a dry location, one's draki can die and one becomes totally human.) When their mom decides they should settle in a desert, she does so with the knowledge that the climate will help Jacinda's own draki die, but Jacinda is unwilling to let go of what she believes defines her true self. Integrating with human society comes easily to Tamra (and when Jacinda can stop moping, she does notice how she hasn't seen her sister this happy in years), but Jacinda is having trouble enough with the draining climate when she sees him -- Will Rutledge, the boy all the girls in school want who happens to be the young Hunter who let her go free. Immediately her draki stirs and she practically manifests right next to her locker. I don't think it takes deep thought here to realize just how attracted to Will Jacinda is, and Will appears to feel the same, as he is drawn to her like a moth to a flame (no fire-breathing dragon jokes intended).

Naturally, as in all situations where the hunter and the hunted fall for each other, there are complications, but things certainly sizzle between Jacinda and Will. Jacinda is complex (though a bit whiny) and Will is a fairly standard example of the blank-canvas leading man. Thankfully, he gains a little complexity as we go along and the ending of the novel will likely improve upon this, too, as the storyline takes a twist. Jacinda does not wish to betray the secret of her race to Will, even if she's convinced he's different from his family of Hunters, though she isn't the only one with secrets to hold onto. Meanwhile, his cousin suspects Jacinda isn't all she claims... and we can hardly forget the pride who would obviously want the only fire-breathing draki back in their protection. Many folks have noted that there are obvious points that this world set-up shares with werewolf stories (shape-shifting, pack dynamics, etc.) and yet I still enjoyed Jordan's telling.

What I mean is that this may not be the most original storyline (doomed lovers from rival groups, etc.), but a romance novelist would be the first to tell you that as long as you have compelling characters, your readers will be carried along with you. It's certainly the chemistry between Jacinda and Will that keeps you going in Firelight, but the ending leaves readers with a real curiosity to find out if the lovers will be able to overcome the many obstacles to be together. It isn't great literature, but it's great fun. I devoured Firelight in a single day and I imagine any other reader would feel the same compulsion to gobble this down. Jordan's romance instincts will serve her well in the YA genre and this is definitely one of the most sensual (without being explicit) YA novels that I've read in a while.


Sara Kankowski DeSabato said...

I actually had a really hard time with this book. I'm sure I was reading too much into it, but I found Jacinda's reactions to her lust towards Will kind of disturbing. It felt like her draki became a symbol of her sexuality--in that every time she was around Will, it flared to life (as well as for another, more spoilery reason.) Jacinda's reaction of trying to squash it--I seem to remember a scene in which she even chastises herself for enjoying Will's touch by saying "Bad, Jacinda, bad" felt off and disturbing to me. Similary, the fact that Will became half an object of lust/love for her and half an addiction--a drug to keep her draki alive--had the Women's Studies part of my mind up in arms.

Also, I think I was disappointed because this book wasn't really about dragons. There were far too few actual dragons on the page for my taste.

scatteredpaper said...

You know, normally I feel like I'm hyper aware of things like that, but for some reason, this perspective never occurred to me -- quite the opposite! The link between her draki and her sexuality was obvious, to the point that I simply equated her frequent outbursts to not allow her draki die as to a refusal to totally suppress her sexuality and bend to the conventions required by her family. Her mother might want to see Jacinda not echo her own mistakes (aka yield to her sexuality in making choices, as she went against her own wishes so that she could be with Jacinda's father), but Jacinda was standing up for her own expression and choices, particularly when it came to sexual/sensual expression. When she did any "bad, Jacinda, bad" internal comments, I didn't think that she believed her sexuality was the problem, but rather, an unchecked expression of it wasn't in her best interest. It was her own (small) desire to keep feelings in check given the complicated situation as opposed to completely yielding to anything based purely on attraction (though it's not like we were even in doubt that they'd come together at some point).
Still, interesting to know that such a completely opposite opinion could be formed when we both read the same book. Perhaps by knowing a romance novelist was writing this in such a sensual way (though they never do more than kiss), it never occurred to me that the main character would think of her sexuality in a negative light.