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.
Something you should know about me – I absolutely love and adore the Mahabharata since childhood. I’ve read so many versions of the epic by different authors in multiple languages and I keep continuing to do so even now. So, when I got to know about this book, I knew I was going to read it, despite the fact that I don’t enjoy science fiction and never read books set in space. I just couldn’t imagine not reading a YA novel based on the Mahabharata and I had very high expectations right from the beginning and I’m so so glad to say that this one didn’t disappoint. I’m very happy to have read this amazing novel and upset that I have to wait a long time for the sequel. And thank you so much Nandini for reading this along with me, it’s always fun discussing with you.
The first thing to keep in mind is that this book doesn’t really read like traditional science fiction. You have your spaceships, space travel among stars, different planets and advanced technology – but you also have immortal gods and goddesses who enjoy interacting with mortals and meddling in their lives (albeit indirectly), boons and curses and destinies and prophecies, traditional warfare with bows and arrows and swords and celestial weapons, and kingdoms rife with political intrigue in a power struggle for the throne of Kali. The author does a wonderful job of combining science fiction with epic fantasy and that’s what impressed me the most. The world building is lush and vibrant and very easy to understand and I loved the descriptions of the various kingdoms, the differences between the planets vs kingdoms on spaceships and how traditional warfare works in such a technologically advanced world.
The characters are definitely the main strength of this story. Esmae is what we would expect from a YA protagonist – strong, compassionate, loyal to her cause and family. What’s surprising is that despite being abandoned by her family after her birth, she loves them a lot and wants to do everything in her power to restore her brother to his rightful throne. She has always hated her evil uncle, the usurper king and his son and makes plans and counterplans to gain their trust and to destroy them from within. But as she spends more time at home and gets to know them better, she realizes that no one is black and white and everyone has wronged or been wronged. Despite being a trained warrior, she is not a warmonger and wants her brother as King but not at the cost of thousands of innocent lives. All the side characters are well fleshed out and play important roles in the progression of the plot. Every single action has very unintended consequences and despite Esmae’s meticulous planning and Max’s efforts to stop the war, things don’t always work out the way they want them to.
The writing is very easy to follow and probably even simple, but I really loved that. I got through this very quickly and in a single sitting, didn’t want to put it down at all because it was very fast paced and action packed and I couldn’t wait to read what happened next. The themes of importance of family – both blood and found, about destiny vs free will and how much control can anyone exert over their future when there are gods who have their own agendas, the justification of war and collateral damage in the grand scheme of things – all form the crux of this book and give us a lot of food for thought, while making us empathize with all the characters, whether we initially thought them as good or evil. The story is also full of twists and turns and just when you think you have figured out where the story is going, the author takes it in a very different direction and it shook me with all the emotional upheaval. The ending broke me because I just did not see that coming and it just raises the stakes in staggering ways for the sequel. A good thing is that this book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, but the story is nicely setup for a much explosive second book.
Obviously I couldn’t stop myself from comparing every single action and character in the book to the Mahabharata and I had hell of a lot of fun doing it. There are lots of similarities but differences too and the best part is figuring out who is who. Resemblances to characters like Bhishma, Shakuni, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari are uncanny, but the fun is when I can’t decide who Esmae and Max and Alexi or even my favorite sassy spaceship Titania represent – they are a mix of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas and I think it will be more fun to see where they go next in the upcoming books. The way the author blended Indian mythology with fantasy and science fiction is brilliant and I am so thankful to Sangu for writing this book. It just gave me so much joy that I can’t describe and that’s why this review of mine is pretty incoherent.
If you love space operas or fantasies with royalty and political intrigue, then this book is for you. If you enjoy stories of love, loss, family and betrayal, then this is for you. If you like reading about complex characters whose intentions are not always clear and not everything is as it seems, then this is for you. If you love the Mahabharata like me, then I promise you will love this book. What can I say – I recommend this gem of a book to anyone who loves a great story with awesome characters.