ARC Review: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

A Spark of White Fire (The Celestial Trilogy #1)A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

A Spark of White Fire is a richly imaginative retelling of the Mahabharatha, with a space setting. I will, confess – I know only the broad strokes of the story, thanks in most part to the Sunday morning TV show early in my childhood; I remembered a few key moments, but the details, and minor characters were forgotten. This made me seek out some more details on my own (okay, I did not seek out the actual story because that is long and is in verse!), because while it is a complete story on its own, knowing a bit of the original tale adds to the enjoyment – well, for me, I just had to know which character was which character in the retelling. Some were very obvious – like a blue-skinned trickster god (Krishna), or the blind King of Kali with his blindfolded as Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, respectively. I had a harder time figuring out who Esmae was supposed to be, as I did not know about Karna (spotty memories dammit!), but when I got it, I was like – whoa, that is one way to put that character!

The book employs some key motifs from Mahabharatha, like the archery contest for Titania (Draupadi?) with which it starts, and I was honestly excited to see what all changes were made for this futuristic story. Shortly, it goes like this – Esmae, twin to Alexi (Arjuna), the exiled prince of Kali, was abandoned at birth and was taken in an orphanage at Wychstar. Now, years later, she wants to go back to Kali and help her brother regain his throne without open warfare, and the way she does that is by infiltrating the current royal family at Kali. She poses herself as Alexi’s rival, and manages to be welcomed into her uncle’s court, while simultaneously trying to undermine Max (Duryodhana). Soon she realizes that they, too, want no part in war, but the King’s main advisor is filling his paranoid ears with conspiracies, urging for a more direct strike against the exiled princes.

The setting is in a futuristic version of space, but the culture of the people is mixed and you can see all kinds of people of color in it, not just Indian-origin, along with secondary queer characters. The stakes are high – they are trying to prevent a war in a situation where the smallest slight is considered a provocation. The story is quite interesting and has almost all the drama from the epic, and is only predictable as far as you already know the story. It was difficult to be entirely objective about it, as I was so excited for it! The romance draws on an already close friendship in the original tale. The other important relationship is the one between Esmae and Rama – who are close friends since childhood, and which becomes a crucial plot point later on. It also occasionally challenges the original tale, like when Esmae scoffed about the Queen blindfolding herself, or when Titania (who is a sapient ship) says she wants no part of the war, or when Esmae questions her brother’s motives to fight a needless war for his pride. While the Mahabharatha was hailed as a story of the triumph of good over evil, about duty, and the end of the age of honor, A Spark of White Fire brings out grey shades of morality to its characters early on, in an alternate timeline of the world.

In short, a space opera with political intrigue that you will love!

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Sky Pony Press, via Edelweiss.

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One thought on “ARC Review: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

  1. Pingback: Diversity Spotlight Thursday #30 | YA on my Mind

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