Book Review: We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

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Being a part of the resistance group La Voz is an act of devotion and desperation. On the other side of Medio’s border wall, the oppressed class fights for freedom and liberty, sacrificing what little they have to become defenders of the cause.
Carmen Santos is one of La Voz’s best soldiers, taken in when she was an orphaned child and trained to be a cunning spy. She spent years undercover at the Medio School for Girls, but now, with her identity exposed and the island on the brink of civil war, Carmen returns to the only real home she’s ever known: La Voz’s headquarters. There she must reckon with her beloved leader, who is under the influence of an aggressive new recruit, and with the devastating news that her true love might be the target of an assassination plot. Will Carmen break with her community and save the girl who stole her heart—or fully embrace the ruthless rebel she was always meant to be?

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This is one of my most highly anticipated sequels of this year and I’m so so happy that I was able to read it as soon as it released (even though this review is being published probably a month later). I absolutely adored We Set the Dark on Fire and had huge expectations from this one as well, and the author doesn’t disappoint.

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The previous book ends on an intense cliffhanger and the author doesn’t let up by starting off almost at the next moment, but this time the story being told through Carmen’s POV. The story in this book takes place in just a few days, so the pacing, tension and the action is absolutely relentless, not giving us any time to take a breath or relax. There was a sense of danger at every moment that the author managed to create, making me scared for my beloved characters all the time and I think the ability to sustain this sense of dread for a whole book was genius. But even during all these tension filled pages, there is so much emotion and love and vulnerability, and I’m amazed at the author’s ability to balance them all.

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While the first book was all about building up this unjust world and it’s cruel discrimination towards the poor and underprivileged, this book is all about what it means to be part of a resistance and fighting for a cause. In this day and age where we see many resistance movements across the world trying to stand up to authoritarian forces, the book rightly has some timely commentary on the importance of believing in a cause and fighting for it, but also about never putting one or two leaders above the cause itself. Through the characters’ thoughts and actions, we see how the strength of a resistance is in remaining loyal to all the people, in trying to build a community and figuring out ways to live, not just survive.

There is also something we read or see a lot in media, about how love is a weakness that distracts you from your path and the author dismantles this perspective beautifully, showing how love in its different forms – romantic, platonic, sisterhood, found family – is a source of unimaginable strength and it gives us much more reason to survive and fight and succeed.

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We get the whole story through Carmen’s POV and I loved getting to know her more deeply. She is very conflicted after her experiences from the first book, unsure if she believes in the resistance anymore – particularly its leadership which seems to have changed direction and started using its people as disposable pawns – and is also worried how she can reconcile her faith in the cause with her love for Dani. Even though the story takes place in just a few days, we see Carmen go through a gamut of emotions, think and realize what is important to her, and though she does act impulsively at times which made me want to chide her, she ultimately does what she truly believes in her heart without ever compromising on her principles or giving up her love. I especially admired her belief that the cause and the people for whom they are fighting are the most important thing, not the leaders.

It almost felt like Dani was only present for a very short time in the book (it’s probably half) and most of their time together was spent in trying to run and survive and fight. But I’m glad that they got to talk about their feelings, understand what is important to each of them and then support each other unconditionally in their final stand.

We get to know a few more resistance members better this time and it was actually nice to see Sota again. He really is a sweet boy and true believer. I also liked how decisive and strong a leader Alex was, with some excellent support from Jasmin. I really liked the author stressing on the importance and power of sisterhood, especially towards the end when they were all tested. The final chapter really was the epitome and realization of what they were fighting for.

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To conclude, this book is as exciting and intense as I wanted it to be and I rushed through it because I couldn’t put it down. If you like your YA fantasies to be full of a group of women trying to fight and lead a resistance against an oppressive government, along with a beautiful love story, then this duology is perfect for you. It is fast paced, it is eye opening, it will make you question your own beliefs and finally leave you feeling hope. As someone who prefers more clear cut endings, the climax here felt a little dissatisfactory to me because it was too open ended and just leaves us hoping that the characters end up achieving what they set out to do without ever getting to know the results.

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