Title: From Dust, A Flame
Author: Rebecca Podos
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: March 8th, 2022 (Balzer + Bray)
Synopsis: Hannah’s whole life has been spent in motion. Her mother has kept her and her brother, Gabe, on the road for as long as she can remember, leaving a trail of rental homes and faded relationships behind them. No roots, no family but one another, and no explanations.
All that changes on Hannah’s seventeenth birthday when she wakes up transformed, a pair of golden eyes with knife-slit pupils blinking back at her from the mirror – the first of many such impossible mutations. Promising that she knows someone who can help, her mother leaves Hannah and Gabe behind to find a cure. But as the days turn to weeks and their mother doesn’t return, they realize it’s up to them to find the truth.
What they discover is a family they never knew and a history more tragic and fantastical than Hannah could have dreamed – one that stretches back to her grandmother’s childhood in Prague under the Nazi occupation, and beyond, into the realm of Jewish mysticism and legend. As the past comes crashing into the present, Hannah must hurry to unearth their family’s secrets in order to break the curse and save the people she loves most, as well as herself.
All her life, Hannah has never stayed in one place for too long. Her mother always moved her and her brother Gabe every year or so with no explanation. When on her seventeenth birthday, Hannah wakes up to find that her eyes have changed in shape and color, her mother leaves to find someone she knows who can help them, but is not heard from again. As time goes on, Hannah awakes each day to find a new bizarre mutation and she and Gabe decide it’s time to take matters into their own hands. They set out on a journey to their mother’s childhood home to meet an extended family they never knew of and discover their Jewish ancestry and a history stretching back to their grandmother’s childhood, including myths and legends that might just be the key to breaking the curse that plagues Hannah.
From Dust, A Flame is quite the mix of genres – contemporary, historical fiction, urban fantasy and a bit of mystery all rolled into one that works surprisingly well. I loved how the story went so in depth about Jewish culture and the folklore was so nice too, especially as it tied into the story as well. The world building was excellent, and despite the story having a modern, present day setting, the narrative drew me into the more fantastical aspects of the tale and it never felt out of place as so many urban fantasy novels tend to be for me.
The story was narrated in two timelines, the first being Hannah and Gabe’s journey to discover the truth and the second being their mother’s past and how and why she came to live a life always on the move. The way these two timelines unfolded simultaneously was very well written, and it maintained the element of mystery and intrigue for a major part of the book. Having these two perspectives, along with a couple of chapters from Hannah’s grandmother’s POV, was really important as the key to the story was woven through all three generations and there was significant information to be gleaned from each timeline that could not have been effectively conveyed elsewhere. The characters were great and I particularly liked Hannah and Gabe’s wonderful sibling dynamic. I do wish however, that the antagonist had been better developed as he felt like a 2D villain.
I did feel however, that this book was too long. The beginning of the story was kind of boring and slow and it took a while for the pace to pick up which meant that I wasn’t invested in the story until close to the 60% mark. This book could have easily been a good 100 pages shorter with no loss of plot in my opinion. Also, the title and blurb of this book gave me the impression of a story more heavy on the fantasy side than it turned out to be, so I thought that was a little misleading.
The ending, while it was perfectly fitting and tied off all the loose ends, felt just a little too fast in my opinion, given how much buildup had gone into the plot until that point. It also felt rather easy that Hannah’s plan went off without a hitch, but it was entertaining nonetheless. This was my first book by this author and I’m certainly interested to check out her other works now. Overall, this was an intriguing read and I would definitely recommend it!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!