As electrifying as it is heartbreaking, Sam Taylor's explosive fantasy debut We Are the Fire is perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes and the legend of Spartacus.
In the cold, treacherous land of Vesimaa, children are stolen from their families by a cruel emperor, forced to undergo a horrific transformative procedure, and serve in the army as magical fire-wielding soldiers. Pran and Oksana―both taken from their homeland at a young age―only have each other to hold onto in this heartless place.
Pran dreams of one day rebelling against their oppressors and destroying the empire; Oksana only dreams of returning home and creating a peaceful life for them both.
When they discover the emperor has a new, more terrible mission than ever for their kind, Pran and Oksana vow to escape his tyranny once and for all. But their methods and ideals differ drastically, driving a wedge between them. Worse still, they both soon find that the only way to defeat the monsters that subjugated them may be to become monsters themselves.
About the Author
Sam Taylor grew up in Arizona’s desert and now lives among Connecticut’s trees. When not writing, Sam is busy being mom to the world’s cutest boys, whirling through dance workouts, and baking too many cakes. She does not possess fire magic, but does have one fire-colored cat. WE ARE THE FIRE is her debut novel.
Interview (by Auriane Desombre)
The world of Vesimaa is a dark, heartless place where we meet Pran and Oksana, two friends forced to fight in a cruel emperor’s army. While Oksana dreams only of returning home, Pran has set his sights on overthrowing the evil system they live in. WE ARE THE FIRE tells the breathtaking story of their friendship and their fight to reclaim their humanity.
WE ARE THE FIRE is out today, and to celebrate the release of this fabulous book, I asked author Sam Taylor about her story and writing process.
What inspired you to write WE ARE THE FIRE?
I wrote We Are the Fire because I was angry. My former day job had me working among some very corrupt people, and I was pretty powerless to do anything to fix their mess. It was discouraging and sometimes soul-crushing, so I wrote to vent my emotions. I wanted a story with fire magic because I wanted to watch something burn. I wanted a story where the right choices weren't always clear… because sometimes they're not! I wanted a story where the right choices came with consequences, because often they do. Above all, I wanted a story with characters who faced seemingly insurmountable odds but were able to make a difference—a story that ended in hope.
What was your favorite part of creating Vesimaa?
The folklore! I loved creating the legends of ancient fire demons who eventually became so important to this nation as symbols of liberation and power. It was fun to write the song about them as well. That was suggested by my good friend Lindsay Hess; she thought it could be powerful to have a song that rallies the young fire soldiers, and it grew to become a big part of the story.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
Condensing the story! When my publisher told me I'd need to turn it from a duology into a standalone, I worked hard to identify the most crucial elements and themes that the story needed in order to make sense to readers. It became a good exercise in simplifying my storytelling; in the past, I've tended to overcomplicate my plots. As I reconstructed this plot, I kept asking myself, "What's the most straightforward solution to this story problem?" It resulted in a book that is much more concise and tighter on the tension.
How did you go about handling the heavier subject matter the book grapples with?
This was tough, because the book does go to some very dark places—which is to be expected when the characters are fighting against oppressors who lack scruples and will stop at nothing to keep their power. When I look at this world we're living in right now, it's not so hard to believe such people can and do exist. With that in mind, it was important to me that I handle the heavier issues in this book without sugar-coating them. That would be a disservice to real teens learning how to navigate our increasingly scary world. I wrote this book because I myself had been in situations where the right choices were not always clear-cut and obvious. I leaned into those experiences as I wrote this book. While I tried to steer away from any gratuitous violence or darkness for the sake of shock value, I did attempt to present an honest look at the cost of rising against fierce oppression—and, how to navigate through turmoil and find your way to a more hopeful future.
Pran and Oksana are such different characters—how did you go about developing both of them and their relationship?
It all starts with their motivations. I wanted them to be quite different, but complementing in their strengths and perspectives. Oksana is the Mother Hen of the bunch. She values looking out for those she cares about, and avoids any kind of violence until one of her people is threatened. Pran is ambitious and headstrong, determined to show up his older brother and prove to everyone who doubts him just how much he can do. But he's challenged every step of the way and has to learn to rely on others' help, especially Oksana's. She's a down-to-earth, grounding force when Pran gets swept away with lofty goals. Pran, in turn, challenges Oksana to view herself and the world with more complexity and nuance, stepping outside her comfort zone to make a real difference for the people she cares about so much.
Can you tell us a fun fact about the book’s creation?
One of my favorite research moments was when I got to visit an alchemy museum and lab at Heidelberg Castle in Germany! It was so cool to see actual tools and equipment that were used by real alchemists.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading WE ARE THE FIRE?
I hope readers are encouraged to find a light in the darkness. That they will know it can exist, that they can bring it into existence. And that they'll do so, when they rely on help from the best people around them.
Pick up a copy of We are the Fire at your favorite indie bookstore or at the following retailers: