Dystopia is the new thing among the Young Adult genre of literature, and with hugely successful hits like The Hunger Games and Divergent series cashing in big, authors are more than willing to jump on the bandwagon. The problem lies in the fact that it takes an awful lot of skill to get a dystopian thriller right, something most authors lack.
For Victoria Scott, and her newest novel Fire & Flood, this isn’t an issue. She instead tries to carve a new area of dystopian fiction, a task she embraces.
Fire & Flood shares the story of Tella Holloway and her fight to save her dying brother’s life as a Contender in the epic race known as the Brimstone Bleed that will take her through jungle, desert, ocean and mountain. The reward for completing the race is the cure for her brother’s illness, but there can only be one winner, and everyone is racing for the life of someone they love.
Scott blends all of the futuristic characteristics of a dystopian world (genetically-engineered animals, citizens fighting one another for the ultimate prize and, naturally, an improbable romance) with the society we know and love. Instead of creating a world in the future, she brings the futuristic tale into the present time, and to characters who could very well be our next door neighbors. It’s an interesting twist, and makes the race seem much more terrifying because a reader can actually imagine themselves in Tella’s shoes. It’s an easy thing to do when we’re surrounded by the same luxuries as the main character.
An interesting facet of Fire & Flood are the Pandoras, genetically-engineered animals (hatched from eggs chosen by the participants) that have special and unique abilities designed to help its Contender win the race. Tella’s particular Pandora is a fox, but others range from lions to eagles and racoons. Imagine an animal, and there’s a Pandora out there somewhere. Each companion is a character in and of itself, and a reader will quickly develop connections with the strange animals throughout the book. Potentially even more so than with the humans Scott has created.
Of course, what would a YA book be without a love story? And what would the love story be without its hunky, bad boy? In Fire & Flood, readers are given Guy, a mysterious and bad-tempered young man that immediately catches the attention of Tella, and vice versa. And like any other YA romance, it’s sudden, all-consuming and a bit exasperating for those more interested in the action of the story. But the love story isn’t all that there is to the tale, and can very much be tolerated if it’s not your thing.
One of the weaknesses of the book, and a deal-breaker for some, is the lack of a connection reader’s might find with Tella. As the main character, she’s hard to like because of a lack of defining heroic qualities that most look for in a protagonist. She’s so reliant on Guy as a safety net that it sometimes feels like Bella (the leading lady of Twilight fame) has jumped into a different book. She’s not as heroic as Katniss or as strong-willed as Tris, but that’s not to say she doesn’t have her redeeming qualities. Tella just isn’t always a role model heroine, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Outside of Tella, the supporting characters in Fire & Flood are wonders unto themselves. Each character has a different story, a different heartache, and different reason for competing in the Brimstone Bleed. And as each character’s tale unfolds, it becomes easier and easier to connect with each one. (I’m a particular fan of Ransom & Levi, twin brothers racing to the Cure for their sister.) Even the villain, as nasty and brutal as he is, garners a bit of pity from beginning to end.
Overall, I say give the book a chance. You might love it, you might hate it, but it’s worth the time spent reading.
A sequel, Salt & Stone, is set to release in Spring 2015.