Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 26, 2019
Genres: Dystopian, LGBT, Young Adult
Goodreads • Book Depository
At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. 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. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. 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?
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
After following Tehlor Kay Mejia on social media for years and hearing some early buzz about her debut, I was highly anticipating this one. And, friends, let me tell you: it did not disappoint!
We Set the Dark on Fire is set in a world that feels uncomfortably close to our own. Medio is a world in which women are expected to conform to prescribed subservient roles, one where a whole nation of people is viewed as “illegal” and is constantly demonized by the oppressive government. I hesitate to use “dystopian” as a descriptor nowadays, because it holds so many seemingly negative connotations to a lot of readers. However, We Set the Dark on Fire is a dystopian novel in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and Red Clocks, as opposed to Divergent or The Hunger Games. The entire book feels like very pointed political commentary, and the subject matter was incredibly timely. Like, there’s literally a wall built by the Median government to keep out the “border-crossing illegals” who they blame for all of the country’s problems. Sound familiar?
Anyway, we follow Dani, who has just graduated from the esteemed Medio School for Girls, which prepares young women for one of two roles: Primera or Segunda. Basically, every rich, influential dude in Medio has two wives, a Primera and a Segunda, who are trained in different arenas of womanly duties *vomit noises*. At the beginning of We Set the Dark on Fire, Dani graduates at the top of her Primera class and is sold to the wealthiest, most influential family in the country… alongside her nemesis, Carmen, who is to be Mateo’s Segunda.
I was enthralled by the world of Medio from the first page. Mejia describes it so vividly, from the food, to the clothing, to the social customs. It’s heavily influenced by Mexican culture, which I loved. As such, almost every character in this book is Latinx, which I also loved. I mean, obviously, it has some flaws (see all of the misogynistic, heteronormative, classist, and xenophobic rhetoric spouted by the country’s elite), but it was fascinating to read about. The chapter headings are excerpts from the Medio School for Girls’ handbook, which I thought was a really clever way to acclimate readers to some of the more nuanced social expectations in Medio. The whole concept of Primeras and Segundas was both fascinating and horrifying. It was such a structured system of oppression, but one that hid behind the facade of valuing women’s vast talents and skills– AKA, the most insidious kind of oppression.
Dani herself was a really fun character to follow. She has a huge secret that I constantly feared was going to be discovered and, consequently, ruin her life. Throughout the book, she gets more and more involved with La Voz, the resistance movement in Medio, and I loved seeing her desire to stand up for what’s right eventually eclipse her fear. I love that the resistance was painted as imperfect, but trying. Like I’ve mentioned, everything about Medio and its politics felt uncomfortably close to home.
Okay, let’s get to my absolute favorite part of We Set the Dark on Fire: THE. ROMANCE. In such a bleak story, the romance was what gave me hope and made me want to keep reading. It’s one of my favorite f/f romances I’ve read recently. It felt a little instalove-y at first, but I grew to really love and understand the quick bond between Carmen and Dani. There’s something so vindicating about seeing two queer, Latinx ladies basically burn the entire system down. Also, I need their husband to die a painful death in the next book. What a jerk.
Overall, We Set the Dark on Fire kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I read it. It was missing that special *something* to bump my rating up to a full five stars, but rest assured that it did not disappoint in the slightest. This was a very strong series opener, and I am anxiously awaiting book two in this duology! If you need more queer Latinx rep, as well as some excellent social commentary, in your life, you have to pick this one up.
Have you read We Set the Dark on Fire, or do you plan to read it?