This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.
Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.
What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.
First, since it's a must, let's look at that awesome cover for a minute. Maybe two. Wonderful and perfect, I hope the next one is that fitting.
I have read Josephine Angelini's Starcrossed trilogy before, and at the time I really liked them. (Back in 2011 when there was the initial slew of trilogy-debut-similar books being published.) Not bad for her first ones, but now after reading Trial by Fire, I can see her writing has changed very much. She's found her footing, and it's significantly better. I was surprised, and now delighted. I can easily hope it's just going to keep getting better, and she will keep growing as a writer.
After racking my brain, I can't actually come up with any 'parallel/alternate' universe books I've read. To me, usually they're off-putting with the mirrored image cover, because I despise and avoid those. That's sheer shallowness on my part, and now I might have to close my eyes and pick another book in the genre, because this one exceeded my expectations. (Oh yes, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray is near the top of my pile. Again the cover, it's like they learned their lesson on the mirror thing.) But maybe what makes this stand out to me is once Lily gets pulled into this alternate universe, things aren't 'almost the same', it's 'holy crap my house turned into a castle' so the differences are more world-wide. A very different timeline having branched off long ago, rather than something Lily did differently that day. Does that make sense?
What did I love about this book? The correct question was what DIDN'T I like about this book? Yeah yeah, I had to say it. Literally the only thing I didn't like, was the very beginning. If you pick it up and start reading thinking, oh boy, this girl Lily is a little shallow regarding "The Boy" Tristin who's a total tool, and she's annoying. Well I can tell you, even by the 50 page mark (what chance I give books) she changes, along with the whole book's tone, which really took me by surprise. Also regarding Tristin…
The romance part of Trial by Fire was such a gulp of fresh air, I can't express to you enough. Without giving too much away, a love triangle is reasonably avoided, and Lily actually does things for HERSELF instead for her guy. It's more like she builds friendships and different kinds of relationships with about five close people. Whoa, like real life, then? Not solely wineing about who isn't falling in love with her? It felt natural and kind, a deep understanding in the most opposite form of insta-love as possible. Thank you Josephine Angelini, we need more female characters like Lily. (Not Lillian, please. That would just be terrifying.)
Since the POV is third person, we mostly see Lily's side of things, but every once and again there's a glimpse into what's going on outside her sphere of knowing, and we see what's up back with Lillian at the castle, or Gideon, who is Mister Slimy Asshole. I think this arrangement of headspace really worked for the story, even though it's not something I'm used to enjoying in books.
I love the blend of science and magic in here. It's like when Whedon mixed westerns and science fiction. Everybody kinda pffft at it, (crazy people) and look how well it worked out. Trial by Fire's world building is beautiful and creative, with things from bioluminescent trees as street lamps, to spliced together creatures to help with different tasks in society. (Some didn't work out so well though.) When the magic is explained in detail, it transforms into an exquisite scientific topic, and the whole process was utterly bewitching. Pun intended. You'll see what I mean when the willstones come to play, there isn't a way to shortly describe it.
Justification. That may be the theme to Trial by Fire. With many of the decisions made by Lily, Lillian, even Rowan and Juliet, I found myself really trying, and seeing, the motives behind their actions. -What was terrifying and well written about Lillian, was that yes, her argument actually makes sense, nuclear power is bad! But is it hang-thousands-of-school-children-who-are-learning-science bad? It is to her, but we're also missing some vital information to totally hate her at this point. (I'm kidding, there is no saving that bitch's soul.) And as the story unfolds, and Lily learns more about being in this new world, her actions become even more questionable, and you're wincing alongside her as she makes every important decision.
Lastly, while I was left with an ending that kept me wanting more, it had enough of a sentence, a chapter, to leave me with an "Oohh I wonder what's going to happen next!" Rather than "What! That's not even a complete sentence!!" In other words, a tolerable cliffhanger. More like a ledge. …See this is why I don't do metaphors.
(Need recs, any more great parallel universe or witchy books I can't miss?)