After spending the last five years at the prestigious Medio School for Girls, 17-year-old Daniela Vargas is ready to graduate at the top of her class. But instead of heading to college, Dani’s next step is becoming the Primera, or first wife, of the capital’s most promising young politico.
Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut dystopian novel is set on an island where a border wall divides its citizens, and where ancient folklore prescribes two wives for the government’s elite rulers: a logical Primera who runs the household and a more sensual Segunda who bears the children.
Dani’s path should be straightforward, and she should enjoy the Latinx-inspired delicacies and life of luxury that come with being a Primera, but secrets from her past threaten to reveal her true (lower) social status and destroy her family, who are from the “wrong” side of the wall. Adding to the story’s tension are revolutionaries who want Dani to join their cause as a spy, gather intel on the Medio School and secretly aid the impoverished and illegal border crossers. With blackmail, clandestine meetings between Dani and the resistance, riots, a rival Segunda and more smoldering intrigue to deal with, Dani’s decisions aren’t always clear-cut. Mistrust, red herrings and plenty of twists and turns color the path as the once no-nonsense, go-with-the-flow Dani tries to find strength, passion and perhaps even love.
Although this is a fantasy, Mejia’s rich world building results in plenty of scorching, believable scenes. Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, We Set the Dark on Fire burns with parallels to today’s biggest news headlines. Readers will walk away with thought-provoking questions to ponder, and the story’s ending will ignite further fascination and hopes for a series.