Set Fire To The Gods by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons is a YA Fantasy novel set in an alternate universe where gods walk the Earth and rule warring domains, sending their people to fight and die in their names.
Ash, a Divine fire-wielder, is the daughter of a gladiator. When her mother is killed by an enemy gladiator in the ring, she blames the god of her region Igneous, for her death, and vows to use her new role as a chosen gladiator to avenge her and her people, who have been mistreated for far too long.
Madoc is an un-Divine, someone without magic, living in the territory of Geoxus. He fights to support his adopted family and, though he has no earth magic, is loyal to his god.
How can one explain this book… it’s kind of like someone took all the ingredients for a YA fantasy cake and threw them together, but forgot to add the frosting, so it’s basically just bread that’s kinda sweet and we’re all left looking like fools.
Nothing really stands out about the two main characters, or the setting, or even the plot. The only truly interesting aspect of Set Fire To The Gods is the lore and the beings who are part of it, because as anyone who grew up on Percy Jackson can attest, there is nothing like being forced to contend with dysfunctional all-powerful beings to lighten the soul. We got a lot of world-building throughout the book, especially with regards to said gods, which slowed down the first half but will likely make reading the sequel a much more enjoyable experience. Stemming off of that, the magic system itself isn’t very inventive, but there’s something nostalgic and timeless about elemental magic that never fails to entertain. Despite those pros, unfortunately, the setting is not immersive at all, which is a glaring issue in any high fantasy novel.
The level to which I didn’t connect with these characters is demonstrated by the fact that I started full-on cackling when one of our main characters started spiraling into a whirlwind of angsty self-hatred. Maybe it’s because the situation was too real since we’re all hanging on by a thread in the fine ass year that is 2020. Maybe it’s because I just do not care about anything that has to do with anything in this book. I couldn’t tell you. All I’m saying is, something about that isn’t right.
That being said, thinking with the logical part of my brain, they’re decent and likable and nonproblematic characters, so I’m not totally clear on where that disconnect came in.
When it comes to side characters, I liked plenty well enough, but not enough to genuinely become invested in them. The most enjoyable character relationships are encapsulated by the push-and-pull nature of Madoc and Ash’s views on the gods. While both are used as pawns in the same manner, in the beginning, they have very different views of the deities that rule them. At least, when it came to their own—the one they’re supposed to worship.
The mood of the book is very heavy and serious, without much biting humor to offset it, which is definitely a detriment, but, while the dialogue was lacking in some areas, Simmons and Raasch are excellent writers, and this shines through in their elegant prose. After all, Raasch’s These Rebel Waves was phenomenal, so this isn’t a surprise.
As I strive to be completely honest in my reviews, it would be strange not to comment on every prominent aspect of the book, including the romance, whatever my feelings may be. I encourage the reader to not hold my lack of enthusiasm about this romantic pairing against the book itself, or even the enjoyability of said romance. During this time of existential distress and Alt TikTok, I’ve steadily grown more and more jaded and more and more queer, and I just truly do not see the appeal. It’s gotten to the point where relatively drama-free straight romances just bore me to death. Like, I probably would have rated it higher if there hadn’t been any romance at all. I just don’t get it. There is no reason. Their banter isn’t even cute!
To sum it up succinctly, the romance between Ash and Madoc is unnecessary at best. It’s not a focus of the book, and the plot doesn’t hinge on their relationship being romantic in any way, so unless we’re going to get a strong, well-developed relationship, which we do not to be clear, let’s call it clickbait. A platonic relationship between them wouldn’t change a thing and would be way more believable, even if it developed into something else later in the series.
As with many of the overhyped YA fantasy novels that have come out in the past year or so, disappointment reigns. Whether that’s because I expected too much as a reader after reading that synopsis or because I’ve read one too many middle-of-the-road books as of late, I’m not sure, but I’m not sure it’s fair to hold that solely against this book. Overall, while Set Fire To The Gods isn’t anything special, I might be picking up the sequel just to see where this story goes.