Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut, We Set the Dark on Fire, is a sapphic enemies to lovers dystopian novel set in a non specific Latinx world. It’s a book about revolution, freedom and breaking the wheel. At the same time, it is telling the love story between two girls who against all odds, fall in love.
Dani and Carmen are recent graduates of the Medio School for Girls, an elite institution where young girls are raised to become wives of the rich and wealthy. In Medio, men with power are given two wives, a primera and a segunda. Primeras are seen as tactical, business savvy, and the modest face of the marriage. Segundas are the opposite. They raise the children, cook, and provide “pleasure” for the husband. Dani and Carmen hate each other, but are forced to come together after they are chosen to be the wives of Mateo Garcia, the son of a powerful government official. Tension between the two grow, but so do their feelings for one another. This all comes to a boiling point when La Voz, a rebel group, contacts Dani. They want to turn her into a spy and Dani learns so much more about the world hiding beneath her eyes.
Mejia pulls from the bloody and violent history of oppression in many different Latin American countries. This is the type of book that becomes richer during rereads because it is so layered with commentary about Latin American governments. While it is a dystopian novel, readers will notice parallels to the instability and turmoil that has plagued Latin America since its colonization.
One of the most apparent parallels is the giant wall that surrounds Medio, it keeps those considered “inferior” out. The wall is dangerous to climb over and heavily protected. The farther people are from the city, the poorer they are. It not only echoes the current political situation in the US/Mexico border, but the problems that plague the Mexico/Guatemala one as well. Mejia’s story is timely and relevant to the present day struggles so many experiences. The book also touches on the classism that affects society and how it is perpetuated by the powerful to keep the people in line.
This is the first book in a duology, so there are a couple of cliffhanger threads at the end of the novel. The world building and dynamics of the story are so dimensional so readers have a great backdrop to theorize over until the next installment. Magical, explosive and fierce, We Set The Dark on Fire is a book that reminds readers that power is in the people and change starts the fire within their veins.