Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.
TW: gun violence, implied suicide, violence, gore, human death (including murder), animal death, medical scenes
It took me way too long to get around to this after picking it up during Black Friday because WOW, I am super impressed.
Really, the first thing that jumps out at me is the formatting of the book. It’s told largely in prose, but opens with a touch of poetry, and is interspersed with scenes in the format of a play, as well as four songs with complete sheet music. I can’t actually read sheet music, which is THE BIGGEST FRUSTRATION (little me had such bad stage fright she faked learning the recorder in elementary school and never did learn to read music properly), but I’d like to think the songs are as amazing as pretty much everything else in the book, especially since they’re placed at such important times. I’m really delighted with the mixed format and how smoothly it fit into the novel!
I’m also thrilled with the worldbuilding. The author’s note says that this is not meant to be Earth, though the similarities are clear (like the almost-French the Aquitans speak, and the concepts and consequences of colonialism that are explored). It results in a fantasy world that feels distinctly real in the best of ways. Possibly one of my favorite subtle things about it, though, was how queer-friendly it was. Jetta, the main character, makes a couple comments that would suggest she’s bisexual, and no one blinks an eye at it. Additionally, one of the old deities is referred to with they/them pronouns, and revered as the protector of “all genders,” which is such a simple but important phrase to include. While the story may not have had a heavy focus on queerness, the setting was clearly one that was queer-friendly, and that makes me so pleased.
There’s also discussion of bipolar disorder, though not in those words. Jetta is bipolar, and refers to it as her malheur throughout the novel, sometimes second-guessing herself when she isn’t sure if the impulse is well-meant or tied to her mental illness. We see the manic and depressive sides of her bipolar disorder, and I believe Heidi Heilig talks briefly about her own struggles with it in the author’s note. I can’t say I’ve seen bipolar disorder portrayed in YA before, but from what friends with it have told me and what I’ve observed from them, it feels like a very genuine approach to it.
Possibly my only frustration with For a Muse of Fire is that it was largely a journey book, and followed a rather predictable structure. There were a couple surprises, but I felt like the plot wasn’t entirely unique in a way that would have kept me more engaged. I loved it otherwise, I really did, but the journey aspect and the flatness of it was a little lost on me.
At the end of the day, though, this was a book with phenomenal worldbuilding, a character with incredible powers and very human desires (and her mental illness and powers are not contingent on each other, which I really loved), and the promise of much more to come. I look forward to the next books in the trilogy (I’m pretty sure it’s going to be three books), and I’m especially eager to see more of Jetta’s powers and what she decides to do about her malheur now that some options have started to present themselves.
Have you read For a Muse of Fire yet? What did you think of it? And if you haven’t yet, think you’ll pick it up now? Make sure you email Heidi Heilig if you check it out from the library, because she’s offering professional recordings of the book’s songs if you do so!