A Spark of White Fire- Sangu Mandanna

About this book: 37588503

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.

Release Date: 11th September, 2018

2-star

What I think?

I buddy-read A Spark of White Fire with Sumedha from The Wordy Habitat, after Jayati from It’s Just A Coffee Addicted Bibliophile bullied us into reading it \(º □ º l|l)/ Jayati loved this book, so if you actually wanna know what’s good with it, go check out her review here.

Short story made shorter, I really did not like this book, and I will not lie, I could end this post here saying just that, but that would make no sense in the grand scheme of things, so this is going to be more of an analysis of all the shortcomings of this book, than a “review”. Which means I may or may not tear into this piece of “literary art”, so consider yourself fairly warned. ヽ( ̄~ ̄ )ノ

In another episode of I HATE YA STORIES

In her Acknowledgements, Sangu Mandanna says: “what if I told a story about Indian mythology… in space?” And on paper, that sounds absolutely lovely. Something I would very much stand behind.

But.

This book is a retelling of the Mahabharata, which for all my non-Indian friends out there who may not know what that is, it is one of our epic stories, that pretty much every Indian kid grows up on. In fact, the Bhagwat Gita (which you should’ve heard of) is also a part of the larger Mahabharata epic. So when I started this, because I am an idiot who does not read the blurb properly, I did not know that it was a retelling, but safe to say by the fish shooting archery competition scene, I was like hmmm this feels very familiar (◎ ◎)ゞ You would think that after that realization set in, I would automatically love this book, and technically you’re not wrong, except for one itsy-bitsy detail. (눈_눈)

Main cast with western names, I am looking at you.

Which, someone please fucking explain to me why does an Indian mythological retelling have western main characters? Because 100% into the book, and my brain still goes 404 error every time I think about it.

You tell me to move on?

A few chapters into the book, it became clear to me that even though ASOWF is marketed as a Mahabharata retelling, it is not really for us Indians—this book, written on the premise of an Indian epic panders instead to our western friends. And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

How do I explain this without offending someone?

To argue for Mandanna, one can claim that this is a society in the future, and so all earthly identities we know and identify with are moot, but to that I will retort with the clear existence of Indian characters, for example our secondary & tertiary cast: the royal family of Wychstar, who were namely King Darshan, and prince Rama, which I am going off on a tangent here, but I feel so betrayed that Rama’s father was named Darshan and not Dasharatha. Missed opportunity! But I digress.

So clearly the problem here is not the presence of Indian characters, but who gets to be them; and somewhere down the line during the writing process, it was decided that save for Amba, not a single one of the main cast was going to be Indian. Our three uber main characters: Esmae, Alexi and Max? Not gonna be Indian, even though they are the stand-in for Karna, Arjuna and Duryodhana respectively. So what we have here is a supposed retelling of an Indian epic, that refuses to have a single Indian MC, and I am not supposed to feel weird about it?

The premise of Mahabharata was used to exoticize this novel to sell to non-Indians who would feel better about reading an “Indian” novel, without adding anything concrete to the story because the book and the author refuse to embrace the Indian-ness of an Indian epic. And maybe it flies with people in the west who do not feel so rooted to this story, because yay representation of western characters! And to be honest, I like the representation here, it’s pretty diverse, but that is not my complaint. Your girl here has a problem with the lack of Indian protagonists in an Indian story, and not the presence of other cultures. So don’t come at me with pitchforks.

To further give an example that irked me, the one time a veena is mentioned, our dear Esmae declares it as awful music, which fine whatever your musical tastes are, but the fact that it was so easily discarded and not a single other instrument ever brought up, tells me something, and it is not a good thing. Wikipedia has a whole fucking list of hundreds of Indian musical instruments, and you’re telling me that the author couldn’t think of one other instrument to talk about in her book? I don’t know if the author has Indian roots or not, and honestly I don’t care if the author has Indian roots, this book is a sell out, because instead of introducing her audience to the Indian culture, she makes them comfortable in the things that they know which is the ignorance of my culture, so (҂` ロ ´)凸 her.

Did I rant too long on that? Maybe. I am not going to apologize because I needed to say it, but moving on from my personal grievances with the book.

A Spark of White Fire falls victim to all failings of YA as a genre: every single cliché whose persistent existence we complain about was unfailingly present in the book. It commits four sins of story-telling, so let’s discuss them, shall we? ヾ(  ̄O ̄)ツ

1. Template Characters. 

Let me ask you, what do you think of when you think of a YA cast with a female protagonist?

If I am to guess, it would be a “badass” female lead, a “tortured-looks-evil-but-is-secretly-a-good-guy” love interest, a “quirky” best-friend to the MC, and that character that our MC loved but who ultimately betrays her.

And if you now come to the conclusion that ASOWF also has these same characters then my darling, you are already smarter than our dear Esmae, who had all the clues in hand about Max, because why else would a god be fucking asking you why how your brothers escaped with their lives again and again in context to Max, and just couldn’t think for herself until shit is spelled out for her. I really don’t like her, if you didn’t get it, and yes it has everything to do with how stupid she is.

The character development throughout the span of the book is so minimal that honestly I am surprised how a character can go from pauper to princess to a war general and not change at all. What did not help was the know-it-all attitude of Esmae, which only worked to annoy me more.  

2. Predictable plot

Or as Sherlock would put it, 

Need I say anymore? I guess you could blame me for being over analytical about everything, and that this book is intended for younger audience, and not an old hag like me, but I think it would be a little insulting to say this book had any mystery to it. And that my 16 year-old self would be anymore pleased with this than the 23 year-old me is. But then again, 16 year-old me was an idiot, so make of that what you will. ( ̄~ ̄)

But the reason I am making this point is specifically for that ending, which I could see from a mile away without wearing my glasses: and my power is -6.5 in both eye, so I am basically non-functional without them. And even though the ending of Game of Thrones was a mess, I am still all for subverting audience expectations, alright? Give me something I can’t think of, because what even is the point of reading a book that I know the ending to without having read it?

3. Instant Gratification.

This ties back with my previous point, and the reason for its existence as well. The thing about a good mystery is that it makes you itch to reach the last page, because you just have to know what the fuck is this mind-blowing shit that the whole 100k word long book has been building towards, and yes sure that mind-blowing shit is more often than not less mind-blowing and more fuse-blowing because congratulations, you’ve just wasted a coveted weekend on nonsense like this. But at the very least it made you feel that anticipation! It made your pulse race and your pores sweat! ─=≡Σ(([ ⊐•̀⌂•́]⊐

And if you are someone who worries for their heart because it just cannot take all that pressure that mystery books I mentioned above give you, then worry not- read ASOWF, which introduces a potential mystery, and solves it in the next page. If ASOWF was a person, every single detective on this planet would be out of job, because man, I have not seen a plot resolved so quickly. And that is honestly such a shame, because more often than not you should let the readers marinate in the story before rewarding them with the solution. Trust me on this. ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ

4. A classic case of tell not show.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this book was that the author goes out of her way to tell us this and that, instead of showing us the same events via plot progression. 

For example: Character A is very strong.

Case 1: You tell the readers that character A is very strong, and reiterate it in every scene they appear. 
Result: Reader is annoyed, because we get it. We got it the first time. And the next 27 times.

OR

Case 2: You show Character A fighting 100 battles, and winning every single one of them without dropping a sweat.
Result: Reader deduces that Character A is very strong, without you having to tell them. Reader respects Character A, & does not hate the author. 

Now then, ASOWF gets this fundamental wrong pretty much at every instant, and goes out of it’s way to spoon-feed the reader every single thing that they should be able to extrapolate themselves; and if the target audience was a bunch of 1st graders, then sure, this would’ve been the correct tactic, because 1st graders are dumb. But 16 year-olds, which I am guessing is the target audience here, are a little-wittle bit smarter than that, and have outgrown the spoon-feeding information stage. And thus, this annoys me on behalf of my 16 year-old self. (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻

+1. Every teenager knows best.

Maybe it’s a personal pet peeve of mine, but any book that shows every single adult as stupid, and every single teenager as the enlightened genius with a 200+ IQ and are the most capable piece of shits after holy grail itself, wins my whole hearted dislike for it. What else can I say? ༼ つ ͠° ͟ ͟ʖ ͡° ༽つ

I could honestly go on and on about this, because there is so much to criticize in the story, but as of writing this ending here, it has been over 2 weeks since I read it, because I am an idiot that got distracted by the Euro2020, and so I have forgotten most other things I wanted to talk about. And I could’ve gone and reread this to refresh my mind, but fuck that, I am not going to put myself through this again just to gather some more bitching material.  

I gave this book two stars instead of one, because the world building is respectable with it’s diverse cast, and Mandanna’s writing is actually good. And that ladies and gentlemen, are the only two commendable things I could find in the entire novel.

And so, I want to conclude by saying, this is so sad, Alexa play despacito. 

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About this author:

Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. Sangu now lives in Norwich, a city in the east of England, with her husband and kids.

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15 thoughts on “A Spark of White Fire- Sangu Mandanna

  1. I didn’t read the full post because I knew it was going to hurt but I agree with most of your points. The use of western names did irk me and the plot is predictable with template characters. It was book 2 and 3 that made me love this series but your main point still stands. 😔

    Liked by 1 person

    • I won’t lie, I was honestly thinking about reading book 2 & 3 because I thought I might as well see where this goes, but I’m barely out of a two year long reading slump, and I am honestly worried if I read too many books I dislike then I will slide right back into that slump 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oof. I was cringing before I even got into the full explanation of why you disliked this book. The fact that they “whitewashed” the cast in this way irritates me so much. If I go into a retelling like this, I fully expect the characters to match their origin story and quite frankly, that’s why I enjoy it. Because I absolutely love visualizing a culture and cast unlike myself – I want to learn more about what makes those stories so special. It seems like such a letdown to do things the way this author did for this book. Seriously disappointing – and then to read the rest of your thoughts just had me frustrated. It was everything I don’t like in a book haha! I’m sorry this was so frustrating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephanie, thank you so much for reading my messy ranting!! I agree, the reason I read about other cultures is so that I can learn about it, and if then I am rejecting that lifestyle because it is dissimilar to mine, then it is completely my fault and not the author’s, as long as they’ve done their due diligence in portraying their culture to the best of their ability. And to see this book reject such a fundamental thing about something so close to my heart just to appeal to a larger audience, really is frustrating. Thank you for your words, it means a lot!! ❤

      Like

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