Ash is descended from a long line of gladiators, and she knows the brutal nature of war firsthand. But after her mother dies in an arena, she vows to avenge her by overthrowing her fire god, whose temper has stripped her country of its resources.
Madoc grew up fighting on the streets to pay his family’s taxes. But he hides a dangerous secret: he doesn’t have the earth god’s powers like his opponents. His elemental gift is something else—something that hasn’t been seen in centuries.
When an attempted revenge plot goes dangerously wrong, Ash inadvertently throws the fire and earth gods into a conflict that can only be settled by deadly, lavish gladiator games. The fights put Madoc in Ash’s path, and she realizes that his powers are the weapon her rebellion needs—but Madoc won’t jeopardize his family, regardless of how intrigued he is by the beautiful warrior.
But when the gods force Madoc’s hand, he and Ash uncover an ancient war that will threaten more than one immortal—it will unravel the world.
Check out my review on GoodReads over here!
I’ve only read one of each author’s past work, and they were both very mediocre. However, the glorious cover for SET FIRE TO THE GODS and exciting blurb convinced me to pick up their joint creation. What came out from this experience was reading a powerful punch of combined mediocrity. The world-building was weak, the storyline was fine but failed to grip me, and I couldn’t care less about the characters. This is odd, because despite everything, the writing was fine. The narrative switches between Madoc and Ash’s POV’s as they enter a “war” as gladiators and fight against gods. The blurb promises non-stop action and maybe a hint of romance. Something about it, though, failed to differentiate this story from the amalgam of YA fantasies out there, and it just wasn’t gripping enough to really make me care. This review is my good-bye for picking up any of these author’s next works.
The blurb basically describes everything you need to know about the book, plot-wise. The world-building isn’t extensive and creates a very vague setting where countries are ruled by gods/goddesses who have elemental powers. These gods/goddesses were created from this ruling goddess that got power-hungry, and they had to kill her. Citizens of each country have powers in the form of energeia that correspond to each god. For some reason, the population is separated into the Divine and Undivined (either I don’t remember reading how, or it was never explained in the book). Divined = rich and powerful, Undivined = majority of the poor people. The religion is basically worshipping the god they live under. That’s it. That’s the world. The powers of the gods are elemental, but their exact traits are never described in the book. Readers see them perform convenient, random feats and we’re just supposed to go along with them. It’s messily written and shows lack of thought for the setting and world.
As a book advertising “gladiators,” you would expect a lot of action and fighting and triumph. (I always envision Fall Out Boy’s music video for Champions, which was four minutes of more excitement than the hours I took to read this book.) The book doesn’t really deliver on that. The ‘war’ the characters undergo is like a gladiator showdown. Basically, eight champions from both gods battle each other 1-1 until one champion is left for each god, and they fight against each other in the name of their god. This premise is so ridiculous and contrived; if this is a ‘war’ and these gladiators are ‘chosen,’ why don’t they fight 1-1 with the enemy rather than fighting against themselves, and then picking one enemy to fight to represent the entire nation? What kind of logic jump is this? There’s certainly action in this book, but it doesn’t take place in the gladiator ring. In fact, this part of the plot isn’t even seen through all the way. Instead, there’s a lot more political intrigue and a mystery that the characters took too long to solve. When you write a mystery, you set up clues and the like so the reader can follow along, right? Ash is trying to put puzzle pieces together and they never fit together, until the big reveal. It was frustrating as a reader to follow along with, predictable, and tiring to read because it just makes the character not seem smart.
Usually characters pull a book through if the setting is not well-written, but I couldn’t connect with Madoc nor Ash. I do think the authors spend time on their emotional journeys, but I got pretty impatient with this “growth” to happen. Madoc cares about saving his adopted family, and that’s about it. His eyes are opened after seeing the mystery plot unfold, but it took way too long for me. Ash was much more enjoyable to read about; she wants justice for her people by defeating her god, but recognizes that there’s a deeper deceit happening between the gods that she tries to get to the bottom of. They’re both touched by grief and tragic backgrounds, although Ash wants to take action while Madoc just wants to get his money and go to save his family. Eventually, both of them are sucked into the plots of the god and Madoc has to learn to grow up. Like I said, they were written fine. But nothing amazing.
“She was sacrificing everything for her people.
Maybe it was time he did, too.”
The authors try to insert a subtle romance between the two characters towards the end that never came through succesfully. Which makes sense, since they set a very weak foundation for this ‘romance.’ If they wanted to create this foundation, they should have worked on the characters’ dialogues and interactions more, rather than repetitive thoughts in their head about duty, family, grief, strength, etc. Okay, we heard it. When are we going to see it? So no, I’m not onboard with this contrived romance and think it was unnecessary.
If you’re looking for a fantasy to “wow!” you and keep you up all night, you won’t find it with this book. The writing was fine, the world was fine, the characters were a bit better but ultimately fine… I can’t think of any other word to describe this than mediocre. Maybe boring as well. There’s just no sense of urgency, no reason to cheer on the characters, and no sense of victory. It was just… fine.
It’s okay, I’ll just watch Fall Out Boy’s music video again to get a better story about gladiators.
violence and blood, grief, death of loved ones
Thank you Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for the review copy!
Have you read any books that just felt mediocre for you, despite decent writing and characters? What are your favorite gladiator books?