At long last, another Clean YA Book Review! This one's for fans of Christian historical fiction.
(You can also view this review in my Clean YA Reads Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/cleanyareads/posts/4804840836277199)
Book Review: The Uncertainty of Fire
Author: Stephanie Daniels
Note: This story is currently only available in serial format on Kindle Vella – where you can try the first 3 episodes for free, or more if you’re a new user and get the free bonus tokens! – but the author plans to release it in traditional e-book/book format in Spring 2022. Follow her at facebook.com/AuthorStephanieDaniels, instagram.com/stephanieadaniels, or her blog at http://stephanieadaniels.wordpress.com for updates on the next release! (Or if Discord’s your thing, she just started a server to discuss her books and you can chat with her there: https://discord.gg/NSRWAsaE) STORY QUALITY: 5/5 BookDragons PARENTAL CHILL FACTOR: 4/5 Happy Penguins (some heavy subject matter/situational content, but tactfully handled! – see below for explanation) GENRE: Young Adult, Christian Historical Fiction/Historical Romance SERIES OR STANDALONE: Standalone Series. This first book provides a complete story arc, but there will be additional books set in the same world which follow side characters from this first book. PREMISE: (From the Kindle Vella blurb): Chicago, 1871 A public blunder potentially ruins sixteen-year-old Whimsy Greathart's chances for a future courtship. Agreeing to her parent's matchmaking plan might be the only way to pursue what she really wants--exposing Chicago's child labor practices. But when she leads her family into danger on the night of the Great Fire, her focus shifts to survival. She overcomes hardship with the help of a shy preacher's son and a big-dreaming newsboy, but which young man will hold a home for her heart? RAPID REVIEW:
This is a very richly told historical romance, with some truly beautiful sections of description and poetic prose. The real appeal of the story, though, is its main character – Whimsy Greathart – and her complex, believable interactions with all the other characters around her. I’m not usually a big reader of historical fiction (non-fantasy historical fiction, at least), but this story had plenty to keep me intrigued. Its pace feels leisurely and exploratory of the deep world it's revealing, which fits the story really well – but it’s also balanced by plenty of high-tension moments, where safety, status, relationships, and lives are often at risk. It’s rich with historical details (and in the Vella version, the Author Notes even provide additional background and historical info!), and seems well researched. But while the historical setting is the anchor for the story, the story itself is also vibrant and well told. I found myself sucked in, wanting to know what happened next… and as I got deeper into the story (halfway through and more), things began to unravel in ways I didn’t expect. She even hit me with some twists I never saw coming! (But which made perfect sense, upon reflection.) The romance is all PG-level and very respectful, which makes sense for the societal rules at the time, but also makes this fully appropriate for a YA audience. Don’t get me wrong—the romantic tension is high! (There’s even a love triangle that I may have messaged the author to whine about partway through my reading since we had a Discord chat open. Lol) But it’s charged with emotional conflict laced with age-appropriate attraction, and never breaches more than a tentative kiss (which would have still been quite scandalous in a time period where a man couldn’t walk a woman home without a chaperone!). And the resolution was both bittersweet (realistic) and satisfying. This is also a Christian historical romance, and while I’ve read Christian stories that feel overly preachy, this is not one them. The Christian themes and Biblical references are integrated into the character’s life and thoughts and feelings in a way that makes them feel natural, and when Whimsy’s beliefs are challenged by the trauma and injustices she’s faced, those questions are dealt with head-on, rather than with platitudes or avoidance. This is a great story for sparking some deep thought and discussion. If you’re a fan of historical fiction – or even if you aren’t, but you enjoy well-crafted, character-driven YA romance – definitely give this one a try. TROPES: Love Triangle CONTENT WARNING: Given its historical context, there are some traumatic events included in this story. Nothing is graphically detailed, but they are present. The story also does not shy away from some ugly truths of the world at the time: poverty, hunger, bullying and violence, desperate people doing desperate things to survive, and some characters who are outright cruel. However, the characters in this story are complex and realistic, and the darkness of Whimsy’s world is presented tactfully, though not whitewashed or avoided. I feel this gives a great opportunity for some deep thought and discussion, rather than crossing any content lines (which is why I gave it a high 4/5 for Parental Chill despite some of the heavy subject matter). However, if your child is especially sensitive or has any trauma background related to loss of loved ones or violent assault, you may want to pre-read before passing this story to your tween or teen. ACTUAL AGE RECOMMENDATION: 13 and up, perhaps older if your teen is especially sensitive to particular types of situational content (see Content Warning above).
Want to see more Clean YA reviews? Let me know what genres you want to see, in the comments below!