Published: August 15, 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Hibiscus Daughter #1
Pages: 416 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.
But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?
When I first came across Wicked Like a Wildfire I was initially drawn in by the gorgeous floral cover art. Then there was the synopsis. The idea of manipulating beauty (or appearances) is nothing new in the realm of mythology and fantasy, but the exact brand of manipulation in Wicked Like a Wildfire is unique.
Iris and Malina are the youngest in a long line of women who were beautiful beyond compare and used beauty as a weapon. Iris can create mesmerizing fractals while Malina has the voice of a self-harmonizing angel (or a Mongolian throat singer). Their mother runs a bakery where she creates sweet delights that can call up memories of places you’ve never been. I loved the whimsical concept of each woman’s gift, but I felt they didn’t translate to paper as well as I had hoped they would. Iris’s gift (or gleam) in particular wasn’t done justice in my imagination by the words on paper. I could only visualize something akin to what you would see through one of those cheesy plastic kaleidoscopes. I was also pretty unclear as to whether this was a tangible thing or a purely visual media, which is an important distinction later in the book.
Aside from the cool magic, the setting of Wicked Like a Wildfire may have been my favorite part. This book is set in the small, Balkan country of Montenegro of which I was very unfamiliar with prior to now. I took frequent reading breaks simply to google pictures of the locations mentioned, from the idyllic seaside town of Cattaro, to the cliffside Ostrog monastery, to the wild, ragged peaks of Durmitor. I was absolutely enthralled and my sense of wanderlust was screaming at me to book a plane ticket and fly away and visit this country.
I was rather impressed by Lana Popovic’s debut novel and will absolutely be reading more by her. It wasn’t perfect and I wished the secondary characters would have been developed as lovingly as the scenery was, but it was lovely nonetheless and had a nice flair to it. Iris and Malina had a great relationship and the Jerry Springer meets fantasy family aspect was pretty interesting. It’s rare that a dysfunctional family is portrayed quite so believably in a more contemporary era fantasy book. There’s so much more to this book, but I refuse to give away the smallest spoilers!