BOOK REVIEW: For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig (5 Stars)

Cover of For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, depicting the silhouette of a girl against a background of flames wherein a dragon is visible

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. In this first book in a new trilogy, Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.

Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood.

But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away. — Goodreads

For content notes, please see the author’s note on Goodreads.

Earlier this year, I read and loved The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, and I knew from the moment that I picked up For a Muse of Fire that it would be another five-star read. Set in an alternate universe 1874, it combines an ambience of historical fiction with fascinating magic elements. It takes place in South East Asian inspired Chakrana, a country occupied by French inspired Aquitan, and the author explores issues of colonialism through a Chakran lense.

I love Heidi Heilig’s writing. It completely draws me into the world she’s creating on the page. For a Muse of Fire combines different ways of story-telling: chapters from the main character Jetta’s point of view are interspersed with theater scenes in an homage to Jetta’s family tradition of performing shadow plays, as well as letters, telegrams, songs, and folklore. This probably isn’t for everyone, but to me, it felt like the perfect way to tell this story.

Jetta is a wonderful main character. Her magic was so cool and breath-taking, though in the course of the book she also discovers a darker and scarier side to her powers. Learning that she might not be who she has always thought she was leads her on a journey of self-discovery. She questions her existence and where she belongs, and the exploration of the meaning of family was beautiful and heart-wrenching.

“Blood may matter to the spirits. But what we share is even better.”

The words come slowly. “And what is that?”

“We share history,” he says. “We share tradition. We share years and memories and everything that makes a family.”

“But not blood.”

“What is blood?” he says with a gentle smile. “We share a heart.”

Shh. I’m not crying, you are.

But there’s more! For a Muse of Fire has by far the best and most honest mental illness rep I have ever seen in fantasy. Like the author, Jetta has bipolar disorder. She longs to go to Aquitan to bathe in the healing springs and cure herself of her “malheur.” Even though Jetta is desperate for a cure, Heilig avoids the usual trappings of the ableist “miraculous cure” trope. Instead, she shows the value in accepting your illness, but also the legitimacy of seeking a way to mitigate its effects. Through the course of the book, Jetta struggles both with the symptoms of the illness itself and the way people perceive her because of it.

“Les Chanceux is supposed to cure madness.”

The word is sibilant—a hiss in the dark. I swallow. “That’s what they say.”

There is a long silence. He cocks his head and glances at me. “Are you sick, Jetta?”

I open my mouth to give an answer—a single word. It should be simple, easy, but it sticks in my throat.

I also want to say that Heidi Heilig is the only author allowed to write F/M romance from now on. I’m sorry, but those are the rules. Not only does she have a knack for writing compelling relationships, but considering that F/M romance between Asian (inspired) characters has not been allowed to be explored as freely as white F/M romance, we have to allow space for that to continue to happen. The love story between Jetta and Leo was very sweet, even though their path was littered with obstacles of obligation, betrayal, and existential dread. Every time they found their way back to each other, my heart jumped happily in my chest. Plus, there’s some delightful background WLW rep.

For a Muse of Fire was exactly as stunning and entrancing a read as I was hoping it would be, and the sequel, slated for publication in October 2019, cannot get here soon enough.


Have you read For a Muse of Fire? What did you think? Let’s chat in the comments below!

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