By Ellie Estrema
Ever since “The Hunger Games” swept onto the YA scene, dystopian novels have been a staple of the genre. From the speculative “Divergent” to the thrilling “The Maze Runner” to the Christian “Out of Time,” there has been a dystopian novel for every reader’s preference. However, no dystopian novel has ever captured my attention long enough to leave an impact. So when I picked up “Steal Fire from the Gods” by Clint Hall, a dystopian story with fantastical elements, I was expecting to only read a couple of chapters before heading to play tennis.
I didn’t play much tennis that night.
I finished the book in two hours, riding a rollercoaster of laughing out loud, feeling sick to my stomach and sitting on the edge of my seat. From worldbuilding to plot twists to relatable themes and characters, I was hooked and held captive until the very end.
The story features a character, Gunnar, who longs to be able to wield the same kind of magical power that the AI does. Specifically, he wants to bring down fire upon all their heads—justice for the family they stole from him in a blaze of fire and smoke. But when he finally does manage a spark, he finds himself dealing with something completely outside his control or command. There are people willing to teach him how to use his gift, but will he ever be able to wield it to gain his revenge? I couldn’t wait to find out, but there were also so many things I enjoyed reading about along the way.
First, the worldbuilding was absolutely fantastic. I wasn’t sure how the sci-fi-fantasy combination would work at first, but Hall nailed it. Both elements were well-balanced throughout the story and interwoven in ways that surprised me.
Hall inserted “quotes” from sources that helped to explain how AI got developed enough to learn the chemical compounds to wield magic. But I also watched how the AI overlords interacted with the characters, heard their perspectives and felt their pain over the loss of loved ones as AI’s ruthless efficiency came at a heavy cost. This balance of showing and telling was well done, and I never found myself confused or bored by it.
Second, the plot was stunning. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, trying to figure out how this all would work, trying to see how the good guys could possibly win. My heart was in my throat, and I was unable to look away from the pages. (Consider this your warning: once you pick the book up, you won’t be able to put it down.)
Part of what made the plot and book so compelling was that the characters recognized the impossibility of struggling against these AI overlords. Finding the way to even begin to fight is a struggle often overlooked by dystopian novels, so I loved this fresh perspective. As the plot continued to progress, I was waiting to find out if (or when) they would find a way to win.
Third, the theme of this book was both precious and powerful. Steal Fire from the Gods focuses on what it means to trust and give up control. Though some things may feel impossible or hopeless, Steal Fire from the Gods emphasizes the fact that we don’t have to know everything to be able to trust and surrender. And once we do finally let go, we may find the way out was through trust the whole time. The allegorical impacts were spot on, and I was so glad to find a story saturated with faith-filled themes.
Fourth, the characters were just so much fun. I really related to Gunnar, especially in his struggles with control. (Recovering perfectionist here!) I also loved getting to know the side characters along the way; each of them were complex with their own stubborn perspectives that had me alternately chuckling and frustrated. It was definitely more of a plot-driven story than a character-driven one, but I still enjoyed getting to know the characters.
All in all, with fantastic worldbuilding, a great plot and deep themes, this story was one that I will definitely be reading over and over. I highly recommend this book for lovers of dystopian stories, coming-of-age leadership stories or for those struggling to trust.
‘Steal Fire from the Gods’ will be available November 7th, 2023 wherever books are sold. The author received a free eARC of this book, but all opinions are completely her own.
Ellie Estrema is a sophomore double majoring in PWID and Spanish. As a TCK, former MK and current PK, she loves learning languages, traveling to see old friends and describing herself with weird acronyms. When she’s not buried in homework, you can usually find her curled up in a hammock: reading stories, writing poetry or laughing with her friends over steaming cups of tea.
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com
Graphic courtesy of @booksandscribblers