While it takes a while to get into Before She Ignites, once the plot starts moving and pieces of the mystery are revealed, it becomes an unstoppable force with increasing intrigue and action.
The Mira Treaty is named after her. It unites the Fallen Isles against their enemies and protects dragons, among other things. Because of that, Mira is the poster child for the treaty, making public appearances and being the face for its goodness. But Mira is far from what the government makes her out to be – she has panic attacks, counts to remain calm, and is in love with dragons. When Mira discovers a secret that will shake the entire foundation of her world and the Treaty, she is sent to the Pit, the worst prison. Betrayed by those she trusts, Mira must figure out how to both survive and figure out the truth behind the secret she unearthed.
I have read many reviews of people who read the book, but did not finish it because of the lack of plot action. While I would have to agree, that not much happens in the plot until around halfway through, Meadows spends this time revealing background information. We frequently jump time between before the secret and after, which can be confusing sometimes, without a red thread to hold it together. We get information which is crucial to Mira’s character and her world, yet its influence is mystified to the reader.
Meadows may play her cards too close to her chest in this case for a few reasons. For one, if I had a secret that sentenced me to the Pit, which is truly awful, I think I would dwell on it more than Mira. Secondly, once the mystery is revealed, the entire plot takes on a life of its own, and being revealed a little sooner, would make events in the beginning of the novel much richer.
Regardless, once the action picks up and pieces of Mira’s secret is revealed, the entire book begins to pick up, almost like a very long and steep incline, except now we’re rolling down the hill, gaining momentum. Suddenly, parts of Mira’s secret and the extent of what she found out begin revealing themselves to us. Not only that, but Mira begins to question her situation and become more active (overall) in finding out the truth of the world she thought she knew and herself. Politics, religious sects, and dragons all enter back onto the stage and we recognize, slowly, what is happening. But if I had one critique, I think in general Meadows keeps many things from us and we don’t even find out the full ramifications of Mira’s secret till later.
However, what I liked most about this book was not the dragon aspect, but Mira’s character and her journey. Mira transitions from a poster child who lives a life of luxury and privilege, to being thrown in the prison with the ‘worst’ of society and in the exact opposite of her conditions. But it’s not only her material circumstances that change. Mira’s betrayal and the revolutionary secret she unearths makes her question everything she knew before, about the world, the treaty, and herself. It is this transformation that I appreciated the most, as Mira must learn how to trust herself, how to be strong for herself, and how to speak up against the system that held her prisoner before she even realized she wore chains.
Additionally, Mira is a heroine that I would like to see more often in YA fiction. Not only does she not fall immediately into a trope, but Mira’s anxiety and counting make her a more complex character. One of the largest ways her situation changes, is the way she must manage her anxiety attacks, because before she had calming pills, and now she has nothing. Away from the privilege and forced to sometimes have her attacks in public (since she has no real privacy), Mira has to confront these ideas about her mental health and methods of coping.
Mira represents a character that I think we need to read more about in YA fiction. She isn’t immediately self-sacrificing – and by that I mean she isn’t one of those characters who sacrifices everything and has no problems with it (ex. regrets, moments of doubt, etc). Don’t get me wrong, she tries and recognizes the noble struggle. But she does not immediately fall into the heroic martyr category. She misses her luxurious creams, mourns a much simpler time, and makes mistakes. Mira lived a sheltered life and now being among the real people, her entire world has changed. This kind of character growth requires a total upheaval and pain in some sense.
I think we are so used to our heroes and heroines being these people, who immediately put others first, and who have few flaws. But this belief does not allow them to be human, to be fallible. I would gladly read about more main characters, who are less heroes and more just people. I think that’s more realistic and even better. We cannot all be those heroes, but we can rise to heroic action, we can confront the fears inside of us, to be more than we think we are.
The Other Enjoyable Aspects
I know I haven’t spent much time talking about the other aspects of the plot, since Mira was my biggest enjoyment. I really enjoyed the world building, even though there were some moments, where it felt tedious. There is a large level of differences in the island cultures and some of the side characters are emblematic of these different beliefs and rituals. This is where I look forward to the next book the most, not only because we can spend more time in the real world – unlike the Pit – but also because I really loved the side characters. I enjoyed the stoic body guard, the passionate best friend, the fierce warrior, and many more. At the same time, in the end there are so many reveals in terms of magic, characters, and the story in general, that promises an intriguing sequel.
While it takes a while for this plot to heat up, once it does, you can become immersed in Mira’s transformation and the storyline. When it does, you become captivated by these political machinations, religious conspiracies, and magical realizations. Read this book for a fascinating heroine and then you’ll be swept away by a plot that has real promise for a sequel. Meadows lays the foundation for the series in this novel, and if you’re patient, I think you could really enjoy the world she builds. Sometimes it takes a while for us to realize that we live in chains, those we cannot see, but Mira’s journey is worth reading as a protagonist who struggles with the mantle of responsibility.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.
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