by Sarah Pennington
Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer, the symbol of the treaty that unifies the Fallen Isles . . . until her attempt to expose a secret she was never meant to discover sends her to the Pit, the deadliest prison on the Isles. Stripped of all she’s ever known and facing a guard who will stop at nothing to learn her secrets, Mira must learn to survive, decide who to trust, and find her voice before it’s too late.
“Before She Ignites”, the first installment in Jodi Meadows’s “Fallen Isles” trilogy, includes much to appreciate, but is particularly noteworthy for the issues represented. A fairly significant subplot deals with problems of immigration that should sound familiar to most of us. The author’s take on the situation provides a good start for discussing these issues.
Also present throughout the whole book is a struggle familiar to many people: Mira’s anxiety, which manifests itself in panic attacks and an obsession with counting. Meadows handles this element well, without romanticizing or dramatizing it. Mira is not miraculously cured, nor does her anxiety turn into a superpower. It’s simply there, a struggle that she must face each day.
As you may have realized by now, “Before She Ignites” is not your standard fantasy adventure. For one thing, it contains little action. The plot unfolds slowly, focusing on characters, intrigue, and worldbuilding rather than chase sequences and desperate battles. Nonetheless, the questions of who to trust, what secrets are being kept, and how Mira will escape will keep readers eagerly turning pages. For another, the story is set in a land reminiscent of the Pacific Islands, a welcome change from the standard European-esque world— though it does include a variety of dragons, another staple of fantasy.
Mira is not your average heroine. She’s the “Chosen One,” yes, but “chosen” because she was born on the day the treaty was signed, not because of any special powers. On the whole, she’s an ordinary girl in an extraordinary position. Some readers might find her annoying, which is understandable. Mira can at times be helpless, naïve, even petty, and her choices aren’t always logical. However, these things don’t make her a bad character; they make her realistic. How many of us, on particularly bad days, overreact to even small misfortunes? How many of us, if we grew up privileged and pampered as Mira and suddenly lost all that, would know immediately how to take care of ourselves? Mira is not perfect, but she is imperfect in a way that makes sense. And although she is weak, she demonstrates quiet endurance and finds her voice and true strength in a way the reader can appreciate.
“Before She Ignites” is not a light book— no surprise, since it’s mostly set in a prison. Mira and other characters face hunger, pain, and psychological and physical torture. Much of the book deals with their struggles to retain both sanity and humanity in the face of dehumanizing misery.
Again, Meadows deals with this well, acknowledging reality without gratuity and balancing the darkness of the Pit with flashbacks to Mira’s previous life, which also flesh out the plot and characters. The flashbacks’ shift in tone and focus are jarring at first, but work well overall.
Like its main character, “Before She Ignites” is not perfect, but it is good. Though the pace is slow, readers will enjoy the characters, the intrigue, the dragons, and the diversity and will find much food for thought in the issues presented. No doubt they will also eagerly await the sequel, expected to release in 2018.
Sarah Pennington is a sophomore Professional Writing and Information Design major and an Arts and Entertainment reporter for Cedars. She loves chai tea and dragons and is perpetually either reading or writing a book.