Set Fire to the Gods

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Aug. 2020. 432p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062891563.
Gr 7 Up–A high stakes YA fantasy full of elemental gladiator fight sequences and political schemes. The diverse world-building puts familiar Greco-Roman mythology in a blender with Avatar: The Last Airbender. Each of the six gods have a different elemental magic called energeias. After the gods defeated the Mother Goddess, they settled down in six countries and now resolve their conflicts through energeias-ly gifted gladiators in arena combat rather than all-out war. Geoxus (god of earth and stone energeias) and Ignitus (god of fire energeias) declare war and bring the young gladiators together. Olive-skinned Madoc Aureliu has lived in the slums of Geoxus’ country, making money in street fights and hiding his energeias by pretending to be powerless. Ash Nikau, who has brown skin, is the daughter of Ignitus’s favorite gladiator and is forced to take her mother’s place when a fight goes sideways. The well-executed plot is occasionally hampered by melodramatic moments and underdeveloped world-building. The mythologies often get repeated instead of expanded upon, making the world feel flat despite the interesting characters. The strength of the novel rests on the character relationships; not just the budding enemies-to-lovers romance between Madoc and Ash, but with their families, friends, and gods. Raasch and Simmons balance a large and memorable cast of characters with aplomb.
VERDICT Recommended for libraries where fantasy and dystopia are popular, this series starter’s action scenes are on par with the level of violence found in the “Hunger Games” novels.

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