Title: WE ARE THE FIRE
Author: SAM TAYLOR
Publication Date: FEBRUARY 16, 2021
Genre: YOUNG ADULT FANTASY
ABOUT THE BOOK
All will burn.
In the cold, treacherous land of Vesimaa, a children are stolen from their families by a cruel emperor, forced to undergo a horrific transformative procedure, and serve in the army as magical fire-wielding soldiers. Pran and Oksana—both taken from their homeland at a young age—only have each other to hold onto in this heartless place.
Pran dreams of one day rebelling against their oppressors and destroying the empire; Oksana only dreams of returning home and creating a peaceful life for them both.
When they discover the emperor has a new, more terrible mission than ever for their kind, Pran and Oksana vow to escape his tyranny once and for all. But their methods and ideals differ drastically, driving a wedge between them. Worse still, they both soon find that the only way to defeat the monsters that subjugated them may be to become monsters themselves.
Trigger Warning: extreme cruelty and brutality toward children
Dark, raw, gritty, and brutal are the best way to describe this book. I still can’t wrap my mind around the whole chaos that happened in this book. So many brutality and cruelty, it hurts my soul. I was left speechless by this book and I ended up enjoying it because it was really good. I’d read many dark young adult fantasy books before and so far only like 4-5 books are truly dark and actually good which include this one too.
This is a story about fire-wielding soldiers and our two protagonists are two of those soldiers, Pran and Oksana. It was told from their POVs and that’s how we know what kind of world they are living in, and what kind of rules they have to obey. Reading their POVs help the readers to understand this complex world a lot more, and it also give more insight into what it was like being a fire-wielding soldier.
A troop of ruthless fire-wielding soldiers? You know everything will go up in flames. The soldiers who can control and wield fire are called Tuliikobrets in this book and majority of them are ruthless. The pain they inflicted on innocent children really hurts my heart and my soul. I can’t bear seeing it but I had to because I was so engrossed in the story and wanted to see how Pran and Oksana are working on freeing themselves and the children. The whole time I was praying that they will be able to escape from the cruelty they’ve been facing for years.
Having the Tuliikobrets exist in this book makes the story more intense. The majority of them are downright scary, ruthless, and pure evil. Meanwhile those in the minority just want to escape, rebel, and return back to their families. I never read a book where there are such a thing as a troop of fire-wielding soldiers and this book being the first that I read which have this kind of soldiers is actually new to me because before this, the books I read are mostly just have a fire-wielding sorcerer/sorceress/witch/mage, which are mostly just one person with that kind of power.
The theme and concept of this book are really dark. Some of the scenes in this book are too extreme that it unnerved me. For example: the ruthless commanders abusing and manipulating children so that they are forced to do the things they don’t want to do, Tuliikobrets in Nightmares rank are kidnapping children so that the children are forced to become just like them, and children who didn’t obey and make small mistakes are punished by being burned alive in a pyre. The cruelty toward children are too much and it put me in tears.
This isn’t my first time reading a book with a dark concept and theme. As much as those scenes unnerved me, it didn’t frighten me too much since I’d read many dark romances that are far more darker than this book. What shocked me and caught me off guard the most is the fact that this is a young adult book, and I’m not so sure if it should be marketed as one.
Learning about the Tuliikobrets history and how they came to be help me to understand everything about this scary soldiers. Like I said earlier, majority of them are ruthless and it was because they are being manipulated and brainwashed by the heartless emperor of Vesimaa, Juhan. And what made these soldiers strong and powerful are the serum they either had to take or get injected into their body without their consent by the imperial alchemist, Rootare.
Without those serums, they are obviously useless. Juhan and the commanders may be heartless and evil in their own ways but the bigger monster will always be Rootare. He created the serums and using it as a way to turn majority of the soldiers into evil beings and the emperor agreed. It was still sad that the commanders have been manipulated since they were children, had to serve the emperor and become just as evil as the emperor and the alchemist. I’m just glad to see those in the minority didn’t submit to the darkness but instead rebelling against the commanders, the alchemist, and the emperor as they should.
I was really intrigued by the whole alchemy thing when it comes to making the serums. As much as Rootare is evil, I admit that he had a great knowledge when it comes to alchemy and an outstanding skills when it comes to mixing different chemical substances. There are many informations regarding this and I really enjoyed reading it.
Aside from all of that, this book also have so many epic action scenes that of course involved things going up in flames due to the fire. Most of the scenes involving the fire are brutal but there are some that I find mesmerizing in an epic way. For example: when those in the minority rebelling against the empire and had a full on epic fire battle with those ruthless soldiers in Nightmares rank, and when Oksana made an upgrade on the fire and demonstrated it.
The world-building is really complex and really new to me. When I started reading this book, I actually had a hard time trying to grasp everything about this new fantasy world and the slow-pacing of the story doesn’t help at all. I had to reread some parts again a few times so that I can understand and glad that I did. This world is really complex but also unique at the same time, and I can already imagined how beautiful this world will look like during nighttime.
As for the pacing of the story, as I said above it was slow. Usually, if the book is too slow for me, I lost interest real quick and will straight up DNF it but I’m glad that I didn’t DNF this one. That would be embarrassing for me considering how epic the story was. I had a hard time trying to like this book at first because it was just too slow for my liking, and I kept reading even when I was about to lose hope that the story will become interesting. The story started to pick up around 33% and that was when I started to feel so invested in the story.
I loved how well-written the story and consistent the plot are. It went from children getting punished brutally to the children rebelling against the empire and they are led by two protagonists in their late teens, Pran and Oksana. It started from getting snatched from their homes to getting their freedom back, and coming back to their homes and families. I loved seeing these glow ups in the story. The book ended beautifully, just like how I expected it to be. The ending was heartwarming enough that I got too emotional. I was happy to see things are going as it was planned.
Now let’s talk about the characters…
Pran Nayar is the male lead in this book and is one of the main protagonists. He’s a great character with a strong determination. This book did justice to his character and I liked that. Getting to know more about him help me to understand him as a person. He came off as this guy who wanted to take revenge on the commanders and take over the fort so he can free not only himself and Oksana, but also everyone who was abused by the commanders since they were children. It was his motive since the beginning to get that freedom. I wasn’t sure how his method will work but it worked.
Pran is really clever. He knew what he was doing and even if there was a slight chance that his plan will fail, he’ll never stop trying making a new one. That’s what made me like him a lot. He never stop fighting for himself, for Oksana, and for every children in the fort. He never back down. His strong intention of wanting that freedom is what kept him fighting everyday in his life despite many people doubting him. The whole time he was planning a secret meeting, I was nervous and thought it would ended badly. He was nearly caught red-handed twice by the commanders, but he knew how to cover it up with lies. He amazed me. If I was in his situation, I would just froze.
Pran’s character is very raw, he was written as this broken and crippled young man who’d suffered a lot for the majority of his life. I find the portrayal of him as the broken hero who never stops fighting to be so realistic. The author nailed it, she did great writing and describing this selfless and strong broken hero.
Pran showed us that even a hero had to make hard choices sometimes that it ended up in many sacrifices. He showed us that every decision a hero made have dire consequences. He showed us that even a hero had to kill in order to save many lives. He showed us that even if the hero is broken, weak and fragile, they can still be strong and fight back. Being a hero is tough and not as simple and easy as it looks. Being a hero means you’re winning but the road to get to that win will always have many bumps, and you have to face many loss along the way because there are many great sacrifices to be made in order for you to achieve victory. I was surprised and also impressed with his character. His journey was tough but I was glad he always had his loyal followers who never stop believing in him.
Oksana is the female lead and is one of the main protagonists in this book. She and Pran are the ones who led everyone who followed them to freedom. Her plan of freedom was more to creating new serums for everyone so that they can get rid of their fire power. If you say it doesn’t make sense that getting rid of their power will give them freedom, please read the book because I won’t spoil it here, find out on your own. She had a different plan while Pran had his own plan; he was more to leading a troop of fire-wielding child and teen soldiers who wanted freedom.
I wasn’t sure which plan I think will be more successful at first but the more I read the book, the more I think that Pran’s plan have a high chance of being successful. Oksana’s plan is brilliant too, but creating new serums will take time. If she wasn’t turn into a fire-wielding soldier since she was still a little kid, she would definitely become a physician or an alchemist. Either way, she would excel as both but mostly as an alchemist since it was proven in the story that she had the skills to become one. I really liked her scenes when she was in the lab working on the serums, those scenes made her character shine more, and it shows what she was great at the most.
At one point I disliked her for still blaming Pran because of her friend’s death. I get that she was grieving, and she couldn’t think straight. But honestly, I feel bad for Pran because it wasn’t really his fault. He didn’t know Oksana’s friend, Anu, would be there in the lab trying to get dirt on Rootare. I can’t really blame him. Rootare played them all, that sneaky dude knew where to put the blame even though he was secretly evil the whole time. It took her longer to snap out of it. I was really on the fence with her character during that one part only. Other than that, she was great. She had flaws and so does Pran. These two might be heroes but even heroes made mistakes and had many flaws, and in the end they are improving themselves to be better than they were before. Both characters had great development in this book. They are both shining in their own ways, and I think that is really delightful to see.
There are also side characters who are good friends to both the of them. Yalku, Anu and Sepp, these three are the best of friends. Yalku despite doubting Pran’s ability to lead everyone to freedom, never stop supporting him and helping him out whenever he needed it. Anu who was always there for Oksana, never stop supporting her despite her plan might go awry. Anu’s sacrifice inspired majority of the soldiers and gave them hope that there will always be freedom for them. Even in death, her spirit seems to give Oksana’s a lot of strength whenever she was in difficulties. Sepp is a good friend to both Oksana and Pran, she was always supporting these two and always wanted to help them in any way she can even though both are suspicious of her in the first place. Their friendships are one of the good things to ever come out of the whole story.
As for Pran and Oksana’s romance, this isn’t like the other romances from other books. They are already in a romantic relationship since the start of the story. I know most people would rather have two people who either dislike each other or who are friends with each other or who are strangers first before becoming lovers. Personally for me, I’m fine with anything. I’m not picky, unless it’s a protagonist who fall for the villain then that’s a big NO!
I liked how their romance was written in the story. As I said above, they already have a romantic relationship with one another but this book also explored their relationship a lot deeper. The exploration will take the readers to see what their relationship is like, and what kind of struggles and challenges they had to face in order to keep their bond strong. They’re in love but their relationship was tested in this book in order to see whether their bond is strong enough to keep them together or it will be broken.
Honestly, I wasn’t ready to see them heartbroken and to feel the angst. I don’t know what will happen to their relationship but one thing I know for sure is that, if they are to break up it will be temporary because there is no way this couple who’ve been deeply in love with one another since the beginning will ended up going their own way and staying as friends. Thankfully, I was right. They get their happily ever after ending and it was beautiful.
Pran and Oksana’s different tactics in achieving freedom are what drove them apart in the first place. He didn’t want her to sacrifice herself because he couldn’t bear losing her, and she disagreed with his tactic because she thought he would fail. Having different tactics affected their relationship quite deeply than I thought. Both of them should’ve been better.
Pran should know that Oksana was capable of handling things on her own in her own way, and he shouldn’t have doubted her in the first place. I get that he wasn’t ready to lose her but he shouldn’t be selfish either. Let her handle things the only way she knew how.
As for Oksana, she shouldn’t have doubted Pran’s ability when it comes to planning things. She knew he was the expert in that field and even if she disagreed, at least told him “have a good luck.” She knew he had a low self-esteem and his brother even said he was weak and fragile, but she should be better considering she’s spent years being with him and knew the horror of living in the fort and getting abused by the commanders. He had it worse than her because he was crippled, and he was roughly punished whenever he showed a single weakness. He had to endure all of that since he was a little kid.
Oksana could’ve been more supportive despite doubting Pran. The more people doubting him, the more he proved them wrong. That’s why he was so admirable, because he work really hard to get his plan to work and to prove not only to others but most importantly to himself that he can do the impossible. Oksana’s plan didn’t work as she hoped for, but at least Pran’s plan worked and that gave them more time to reach the final step to freedom.
The differences in their plans and opinions put a strain in their relationship and it was hard for them to get back to the way they used to be. The first step to mend things between them was to apologized to each other for being doubtful and disagreeing. The obstacles that kept getting in their way are the hardest challenge for them to face, but they survived and are back to being together again which is exactly the way I was hoping for. Their apology scene was short and simple but it was really important to both of their characters because from that moment onward their characters are improving a lot and their relationship keep getting stronger and stronger everyday.
Their romance are sweet and beautiful. It was written to be realistic because let’s admit it, real life relationships are like this too (minus the whole having power and living in a fort with ruthless commanders). Couples argued and fought most of the time but they ended up finding a way to cool things down by having a discussion calmly. That will just keep the bond they shared a lot stronger. Pran and Oksana’s relationship is like that too, they didn’t yell at each other but they don’t talk to each other either and yet they managed to find a way to mend things between them. I liked the way it was portrayed in this book.
I have to praise the author for writing this story because she outdid herself with this book. She nailed the ruthlessness of the emperor and the commanders, the evilness of the alchemist, the ups and downs of Pran and Oksana, the strength of the soldiers who are rebelling against the empire etc. Everything about this book was solid. The storyline was gritty and powerful, and the plot was consistent and on point.
I was impressed by this debut book. It worked so well as a standalone and I was really enjoying it. The book ended beautifully and after witnessing all the horrors, it made sense for the ending to be so heartwarming. In tough times and in the dark, there are lights to guide the characters home to their freedom. They deserved to be happy after what they had to go through. This book was quite emotional, and there are so many lessons to be learned from it. For a debut book, it was already life-changing. This only excite me to read more books from the author.
Sam Taylor grew up in Arizona’s deserts and now lives among Connecticut’s trees. She spends her days writing, being mom to the world’s cutest boys, whirling through dance workouts, and baking too many cakes. She does not possess fire magic, but does have one fire-colored cat. We Are the Fire is her debut novel.