Review: A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE by Sangu Mandanna

Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Page Count: 311
Release Date: September 11th, 2018
Series: CELESTIAL TRILOGY, Book 1
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Note: I was given a finished copy of this book by the author’s agent.  It has not affected my review in any way. 

51ukvqacghl-_sx333_bo1204203200_A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE takes place in a galaxy where gods and curses live side-by-side with spaceships and video chat. Esmae is a princess-in-hiding, sent away as a baby 17 years ago by her mother in the hopes of avoiding a curse upon the royal family.  Esmae has spent her whole life training to be worthy of coming home, aided in part by the war goddess Amba.  The stakes were raised four years ago, when Esmae’s uncle usurped the throne, and sent her family into exile.  Esmae plans on helping her twin brother Alexi reclaim the throne by winning the unbeatable warship Titania in a contest of skill, and using that bargaining chip to negotiate her return to her uncle’s court, where she can spy and gather valuable information. Things go according to plan, but as Esmae spends more time at court, she finds herself growing attached to the people she hated, dividing her loyalties.

I absolutely loved the world that Mandanna created in A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE.  The sci-fi and mythology elements were well-balanced and I never felt like the book didn’t know exactly what it was. The sci-fi parts of the story make up the bulk of the world-building, and the way Mandanna describes the gentle, reassuring hum of the machinery in a space station instantly puts you in the right frame of mind.  The mythology is more subtle: gods who appear on a whim, enchanted weapons, glimpses of a fixed fate. I easily accepted this dual genre without much questioning.

Despite the excellent world-building, this was definitely a tale that took some time to find its feet.  The author begins in media res, and while I don’t mind that approach, I found myself at a bit of a loss over why I was supposed to be rooting for this character.  I wasn’t invested in Esmae right off the bat, nor did I understand what was at stake for the galaxy with the contest over Titania. I read the first chunk of the book with only a mild interest, but it was worth getting over that hump.  Once the initial events are over and Esmae is established in her uncle’s palace, the characters and the story are properly introduced, and I became increasingly eager to read on. The court politics were fraught, the ending was heart-breaking and Esmae’s arc well-earned.  In short, the book snuck up on me and wormed its way into my emotions when I wasn’t looking.

As the characters became more fleshed out, I found myself wishing that more attention had been given to Titania.  The warship is not only unbeatable (she was made by the gods), she is also sentient.  In this way, she was under-served by the plot. Titania doesn’t get the time to steal your heart like the other characters, a fact I found odd given that she was the central MacGuffin. It may seem odd to demand character development of a spaceship, but if the ship is going to have feelings, then they deserve some time. Hopefully we will get to know Titania  more in future installments.

A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE is a rare book where I would encourage readers to keep going if they don’t immediately latch on during the opening. I did not expect how invested I would be in the ending, and it was well-worth sticking through the initial set-up.  There are also a few threads hinted in the background of the story that I have theories about, and I’m very curious to read on and see if I’m right!

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