Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows

before she ignites

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a dragon book, but it has a very tropical island feel to it instead of the usual European middle ages background.

Mira is the Hopebearer for her people, the inhabitants of one of seven islands. She is expected to be nothing but a beautiful puppet and a symbol for the ruling class, always being insulted by her overbearing mother and being told all of her worth is in her face. Her greatest love is the dragons in the sanctuary on her island, but when she finds a dark secret relating to them, she is thrown in jail to silence her.

This book is written so you don’t find out what she discovered until the very end. She is manipulated and tortured by people who want to know what she knows, but it is concealed from the readers almost as long as it is hidden from the government. This really adds an extra tension to the book since we know what she is going through, but we do not know why. It could have slightly ticked off a couple of higher-ups, or it could be in place to completely topple the entire ruling structure.

Most of the novel takes place inside of a filthy jail where Mira is denied luxuries and even some essentials. Her jailer is definitely trying to pressure information out of her, but all of the other folks in the jail may be planted there to do the same. Mira does not know how safe it is to try and make friends and allies and she has to assume her imprisonment if permanent. The conditions are intolerable, but she still wants to live, so much of her energy goes towards adapting to the new conditions.

The one standout feature of the main character is her use of counting to calm herself down when she is panicking. It comes across as the author sneaking a mental illness onto a character in a fantasy novel, which is a pretty unusual move. It reads a lot like a panic disorder crossed with some obsessive compulsion but I have no idea why it is in here. Is it trying to normalize mental illness by putting it into characters outside of issue novels? If that is the case, I appreciate the author going to these lengths to present mental illness as something that is present in many people and does not mean they cannot be brave. I just wish it was blended a bit more smoothly into the book. It read as a very 21st century thing in a fantasy world completely apart from ours.

Thanks to the setting and the mystery of the cause of the conflict, this is a pretty non-standard fantasy book. It just seems a little disjointed in places and the vast majority takes places in a very boring dungeon instead of a glittering fantasy world. Give it a read if you completely love dragons, but there is some more interesting stuff out there.

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