So many people have yelled at me to read this book, and now I can finally say that I HAVE! (You happy, Shealea?) I ended up absolutely adoring it. So much so that I figured out how to add sparkles to a photo – just because I wanted to glitterfy my photo of this book.
Title: A Spark of White Fire
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Genre: Sci-Fi, Space Opera
In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.
Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.
It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.
Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.
Content warnings: Violence, murder, body mutilation, broken families
☕ Quotes ☕
“Do you know what happens when a pawn gets all the way across the board? She becomes a queen.”
“I was made for war, but I don’t have war in my heart. It makes me joyful to fly, just as I’m sure it makes you happy when your bow feels warm in your hands, but taking pleasure in being good at what we do isn’t the same as finding pleasure in using our talents against the rest of the world. I will fight if I must, but I won’t enjoy it. I would rather be reading stories.”
“The dark of the galaxy bleeds away, replaced with newborn stars and gas clouds the color of fire.”
“My loyalty is to Kali, not the man or woman who rules it.”
“You are more than your flaws and mistakes. You are more than the sorrows of your past. Your heart is as fierce as a lion’s. You are loved by gods, just as your brother is. Remember that. Perhaps it will help you in the way it will help him. Perhaps it will help save you in the end.”
“Was I consumed by hurt and longing or was I captivated by the beauty? I don’t remember. Perhaps it was a little bit of both.”
“People will remember today, because today is the day we start a war. It will be fierce and bitter and I will repay every betrayal, every lie…a thousand times over. I won’t stop until the world is on fire. And I swear this…I swear I will break you before the end.”
☕ Plot ☕
Going into this book, I didn’t know much about the plot. All I knew was that it was a sci-fi reinterpretation of the Mahabharata, and that it involved a usurper, a lost princess, and an unbeatable warship. However, the likes of Shealea @ Shut Up Shealea, Kaleena @ Reader Voracious, CW @ The Quiet Pond, and Vicky @ Vicky Who Reads sang its praises to the highest heavens, so I knew this was going to be a great read. And it absolutely was!
From the get-go, the book plunges you straight into the thick of things. It took a little getting used to, since most books take the time to establish the “baseline”, so to speak, of their worlds before really going into the high-stakes changes that set the plot in motion. But I did appreciate Sangu’s straightforwardness and uncomplicated way of laying it all out for the reader.
The book heavily explores the concept of the gods and goddesses, and the hand that they have in the lives of humans. Most SFF books that involve gods portray them as immovable forces of nature, as unlike any other sentient being as can possibly be. But in A Spark of White, the gods and goddesses are just as capricious and emotional as their human charges. I really enjoyed Sangu’s portrayal of them, which was immensely different from any other portrayal of a pantheon that I can think of.
The book also covers the themes of family and loyalty throughout the political intrigue, which I found interesting and captivating. The family dynamics were wonderfully portrayed. I loved how one side of the conflict wasn’t shown as being inherently evil; it was just two sides of a family feud that felt they had both been wronged, and how their people all suffered for it. The only villain was the mom who literally shot her daughter out of a goddamn airlock, but that’s another story altogether.
But the thing I admired the most about the book was how it explored the theme of destiny. For me, a lot of SFF utterly fails at making the whole “Chosen One” thing a compelling storyline. What I absolutely love about this book is that although it portrays certain moments of fate as being set in stone, in the end, how that moment happens, the circumstances surrounding it, and other ‘background’ issues come about solely because of people’s decisions. Although the book makes it clear that destiny cannot be escaped, in the end, it is still shaped by people’s choices.
☕ Writing ☕
As I mentioned earlier, Sangu Mandanna’s writing style is very straightforward. I do acknowledge that this may not be for everyone, but personally, I loved it. The no-nonsense, frills-free way of storytelling really lent itself to the fact that this is a book inspired by an epic (which are pretty much told in the same straightforward way). It just really worked.
Despite (or because of?) this straightforwardness, the worldbuilding was lush, imaginative, unique, and inspired. I loved the concept of kingdoms built on starships, as well as the political intrigue that was woven flawlessly throughout the entire story. For a plot that relies heavily on the involvement of gods, godessess, and fate, the political machinations are still endlessly fascinating and intriguing.
Basically? Sangu knows how to tell a damn good story.
☕ Characters ☕
First of all, PROTECT TITANIA THE PACIFIST WARSHIP WHO JUST WANTS TO READ BOOKS AT ALL COSTS.
Titania, the sentient warship created by the gods, is precious beyond all words. She doesn’t want to participate in war or bloodshed; she just wants to read more stories! My heart melted all over the place and I wanted to cry.
As a protagonist, Esmae meets all my expectations and more. She’s tough and fierce, but also soft with those she loves. She tries her best to remain true to her good heart, and struggles with discerning right from wrong. Her character progression is also amazing to behold: we see her go from an idealistic ingenue who wants to do right by her family, to a heartbroken, embittered woman ready to burn down the galaxy in vengeance.
Max, the adopted son of the usurper king, is another character who totally captured my heart. You as the reader expect him to be cruel, cold, calculating, and ruthless. But as the book progresses, you – and Esmae – discover that he’s a loyal son, sensitive and thoughtful, honorable, and a great leader. He turns the trope on its ear, and it’s just done so well that you can’t help but root for him.
All of the characters, from Esmae’s best friend Rama to her conqueror twin brother, were just really well-written, complex, and utterly human. They handle the capriciousness of the gods as best as they can, and try to remain good people loyal to their causes despite the war that they’ve been thrust into – a state of being also known as the human condition. I love it.
☕ Overall ☕
I cannot believe it took me this long to read this book. I can’t recommend it enough. If you want to read an enjoyable space opera, but then have your heart ripped out and stomped all over but still enjoy the pain, definitely pick up A Spark of White Fire.