Book review of Kindling by Traci Chee


A successful fantasy plunges readers into a world that feels removed from the ordinary, while still maintaining a familiarity or unexpected resonance. National Book Award finalist Traci Chee’s Kindling does exactly that as it takes readers into an unknown world ravaged by a war in which “kindlings”—teenage warriors trained since childhood to wield a dangerous magic—were deployed as an ultimate weapon, but always at a cost. Even if they survived the fighting, using their magic resulted in an early death by “burning out.”

The book opens after the war has ended, and kindling magic is taboo. This dramatic postwar shift means former kindlings can move on with their lives, but having known nothing but fighting and death, many are unable to find purpose and drift through the world as outsiders. However, formal peace doesn’t mean an absence of violence, and a threat on her village leads Tana to seek help from Amity, a powerful and influential kindling formerly known as a Deathbringer. Amity agrees and works to assemble a team of kindlings, all women or nonbinary, all carrying the trauma of their past battles and the uncertainty of their futures.

Chapters alternate between the eight main characters’ individual perspectives. Chee makes an unconventional choice in constructing the whole novel in the secondperson, referring to each character as “you.” This structure takes some getting used to, as does distinguishing the different characters who, while distinct, have much in common as well. Inspired by ensemble films such as Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, Kindling thoroughly reimagines the multi-voice story and offers readers something surprising.

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