Taking place in 1847, Jetta Chantray helps run her family business in Chakrana, as one of the most infamous of people you could come across; a shadow player. What are those, and why are they so hated? Well, what a shadow player can do is see souls that have not crossed over yet, still living among us. Well, living enough. Heilig calls them wandering spirits. What she can do is, with a simple drop of blood, bind these astrayed souls to objects, in a way bringing them back to life by giving them a body. The twist? They can only really move and operate under Jetta’s orders. She controls them when she does what she must. And these bodies don’t have to be, say, a fresh one of a mother who just died of leukemia. It can be a pebble, or a wig, or in Jetta’s usual case, a puppet, and with these cursed objects she can put on magic shows no one knows how they do it. The only rule of doing this is to never show and never tell. The family manages to eat enough rice rations to get by. The only thing is growing tensions between opposed countries, and Jetta’s desire to cure a sickness she possesses (she doesn’t know what it would be called, whereas we call it bipolar disorder) and she hears there is a cure at Nokhor Khat, and a friend that tags along named Leo Rath offers to guide them over to it as securities start to tighten in their home region.
The best thing about For a Muse of Fire is this idea of what Heilig’s protagonist can do, and the fact there’s a lot she ends up doing, including bringing a soul into a lock so she can order the spirit to wind the inner gears and unlock it. There’s a lot Jetta manages to do that saves the skins of those who mean a lot to her.
I also like how there’s music in this book, not just the usual songs but sheet music. The ways she also turns parts of the book into play scripts (there was no shown need for it to be like this, but it’s a nice touch anyway) and faxed warnings throughout the dictatorship (with STOP being a special codeword) reminding us of how inept yet also similar 170-year-old technology is to ours now.
But amid all of that, not much else ends up sticking. The worst part is how some of the book feels too focused on the adventure to be entirely clear on the environment it’s in, at least for those who like to read their books fast like yours truly. I didn’t completely understand the dilemma between the rebels and the empire, nor exactly why the family wasn’t entirely on board with the rebellion. Nor did I really get why or even if Jetta’s bipolar disorder was in desperate need to be cured. There was never the impression her disorder was getting in the way of performances or being a good person. The book I’d compare this to the most is Daughter of Smoke and Bone, because the protagonist in that book had a similar ability to mess with the world around her. Except here, that power is a lot more utilized. Also, both books are easy to not quite understand if you want to try to glide through quickly. You have to pay attention and you have to be completely invested. Sometimes complex stories open up compelling storylines that unforgettably stand out. I guess, my expectations were high thanks to its cover slogan: “What Burns Brighter? Escape or Rebellion?” Whereas most of this book had a completely different type of story to tell. It was kind of puzzling.
The ending is magnificent. What saves it from being your typical cliffhanger is a choice Jetta makes that involves a being called The King of Death, and a story we hear about it later on is haunting. What this statement about the ending implies is nowhere near what you might think it is. Oh, and I almost forgot. A lot of the characters speak French, a trait that makes me really wish I could give it a higher review. I was reminded a little of all the fun phrases I learned throughout my 12 years of doing it.
Basically, For a Muse of Fire is a light afterlife-related fantasy that includes actual music sheets that I’m tempted to try out on my clarinet or piano. But considering its amazing title and cover, it’s only just manageable enough to be considered inspired, and its great ideas for its fantasy deserves more.