It’s always great when authors reverse the conventions are run with something new. So what happens when you get a witch burning scientists, in an alternate dimension, where the hero’s enemy is herself? We get Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini, that’s what.
I first encountered Josephine Angelini when I picked up Starcrossed series, and was really looking for a trashy read. And in my defense, from the back of the book Starcrossed sounded like the usual teen romances with a little action thrown on top for some flavor, but I was not expecting the action-packed, clever story that I got. So picking up Trial by Fire I was sure I had another winner… and it was decent.
Lily is a sickly little thing, allergic to pretty much everything, barely getting by and in love with her playboy friend Tristan. But everything changes… when the fire nation attacked.
Everything changes when Lily from another dimension – who goes by Lillian and is the tyrannical villain burning scientists – Lilly her into a post-apocalyptic world where witches rule and demons terrorize the people.
Lily is mistaken for Lillian for a little while but she accidentally runs into Lillian’s ex-boyfriend, Rowan, who wants to kill her. Rowan eventually is convinced that Lily is not Lillian but he still has a hard time trusting her, because of Lillian’s screw ups. Lillian kind of ordered his father to be hanged and never even gave him an explanation, good or not, as to why.
So naturally you would think it takes him a long, LONG time to trust her… But it doesn’t. What detracts from Lily and Rowan is that they’re both fairly perfect. Lily is too thin and she’s secretly gorgeous, but for no real discernible reason she has no friends except playboy Tristan. It’s hard to feel too sympathetic for her.
Lily is the most powerful witch in the world, and she doesn’t even have to work hard to use her powers, despite it taking other people, including Lillian, years of study. She just twitches her nose. And bam, no problem. Everything is solved.
Rowan, is a mechanic, someone who helps a witch regulate her body chemistry, so, of course, he’s the best at it. He knows Lily’s body better than she does, and teaches her all about how to live in her own body (which kind of bugs me, because the stuff he teaches her is stuff she could have easily figured out on her own).
Lillian as a villain also adds a lot of interest value to the story. A character who is both the hero and the villain. You can talk about foils all you want, but nothing beats literally having to face yourself. And because Lillian and Lily are essentially the same people it opens up the door to WHY. WHY did she start killing scientists? WHY did she hang Rowan’s father? WHY did she suddenly make a 180 from happy normal Lillian to tyrannical evil Lillian?
The best part of the novel is the worldbuilding. In the alternate world witches came into power because at the Salem Witch Trials they tried to burn witches (which gives them more power) rather than hanging them, like they did in our world. Only their world is under attack.
Somewhere along the line witches created the Woven, new creatures made from melding different animals together. The Woven went rogue and are now picking off the Native tribes who live outside the protected cities. Add that to the possibility of meeting an alternate version of yourself and you’ve got a pretty crazy world going on.
All in all the faults, while they’re the faults that ruin novels all the time, don’t bring this novel down as much as you’d expect. It’s a cool fantasy/sci-fi hybrid world and interesting plot save it from becoming too trite or romance focused. And while it takes a good half the novel to get invested, you do eventually get invested.
And, knowing Josephine Angelini, it’ll stay interesting, and the characters will probably go through more character development and eventually have to make some tough choices. But for now it Trial by Fire was a solid start to a series. And we’ll definitely go into more detail in our review of Firewalker, because we are so slow that it is out now.