'Firelight' is the newest YA/PNR novel by Sophie Jordan. My chief complaint about YA is that it often means 'dumbed down', but this one isn't. Within the teenage angst clichés are some decent twists and it shakes off the doldrums to make for an entertaining story, restoring some of my faith in YA.
In this alternate universe exist the draki- an offshoot of humanity descended from dragons who can manifest into a draconian form. Normal humans known as hunters exist to prey upon them to sell to the Enkros, who have a variety of uses for their kind. Draki live in prides, isolated and hidden from human settlements by the magic of their people. But the power and lineage of the draki are waning; more and more of their children are unable to manifest their draki forms (including her twin sister, Tamra) and some bloodlines have all but faded. Jacinda's problem is that she's not just any draki, she's a fire-breather- the first to be born into her pride in over four hundred years... and the elders already have plans for her.
When an act of defiance by Jacinda leads to a narrow escape from a party of hunters- abetted by one of them- the reactions of their pride leader finally drive Jacinda's widowed mother, who has long since allowed her draki abilities to wither and atrophy, into the decision to escape with her daughters and live a normal human life, in the hopes that away from the pride Jacinda's abilities will also fade with time. As fate would have it they've moved into the town where the hunters who nearly trapped her are based, and she meets up again with Will, the young hunter who allowed her to escape. Somehow Will makes her feel vital, alive and still like a draki... even if he's only human.
A not-so-chance encounter with Will brings Jacinda dangerously close to revealing her secret even as she learns more about his, and the consequences are more than Jacinda ever imagined.
As is the trend with UF/PNR books, the draki are the New yet Old Race representing the best that Mother Earth has to offer. Each strain of draki- Onyx, Water, Earth, Phaser- possess specific traits unique to the kind. Contact with fertile, arable land sustains and nurtures them as do precious stones and gems, which draki can detect while still buried. Their culture is only foreshadowed in this first novel, and seems interesting. The writing style is a little off to me- too many very short sentences made it feel sometimes like a Dick and Jane book.
The main character Jacinda reminds you of Bella from Twilight- so self-centered she's contradictory. She can't stay with the pride because they'll wrest away control of her life but from the moment they leave all she wants is to get back to them and the draki lifestyle. And with Will being a hunter he's too much of a danger to be around yet all she can do is pine for him in his absence, even when knowing that he's off hunting draki. Thankfully she does snap out of it some and does have moments to shine- like when she first realizes she's losing her draki abilities and when she discovers what the pride had planned for her.
Being the male lead makes Will the sensitive, caring one in his family, considering them all poison (his words) and wanting nothing to do with them after HS. The tortured young hero who lies torn between his desire for Jacinda and his loathing for his kin seems like was pulled right off the assembly line. He's the best tracker ever yet rejects his family's teachings out of hand and can look past the beast to see the girl, just because. This guy's got nothing going on. Or does he...?
Other supporting characters also came out of the cookie cutter, especially Will's two hunter cousins, Xander and Angus. Being kings of the HS mountain they're typically arrogant and snide, always exuding eeee-vil from their pores. But all hunters are evil in both definition and design without a shred of compassion in the lot; even Will's own father is made out as a sociopath despite having committed an act of supreme love for his son.
And there's precious little revealed of the Enkros- the ancient draki enemy and the reason the hunters pursue them- other than throwaway references. It's never even hinted at how all these races fit together into a human world when segments of the population clearly know about them. Maybe it's all being saved up for the sequel, but a few teasers would've been nice.
'Firelight' is a little bit of fresh air in a crowded room. Even though you still taste some staleness, you'll be glad for the refresher.