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Reviewed by Prabhleen Notra
Opening sentence
On the drive up from Rome, the whole road was covered in mist. A good thing, probably: it prevented me from commenting on the scenery. Italy was supposed to be beautiful, but I had a lot of faith in my ability to be unimpressed.
“In the beginning, there was a war.”

The Italian city of Castello. Contrary to its pretty name, Castello is a crumbling city, divided by clan wars. Lilly moves to this city with her father, finding it under the control of a man referred to as ‘The General’. The General is a dictator obsessed with ‘purity’, testing the blood of inhabitants every so often in order to get rid of those found to be impure. Lilly finds that Castello has many secrets, ones she herself is involved in, and it doesn’t take long before she’s determined to uncover them.

During her stay in the isolated city of Castello, she meets Liza--a rebellious girl--Nico--a brooding boy--and Christian--a sensitive soul. Lilly, struggling to get used to the non-modernised ways of the city, doesn’t luck out in the trust department. She can’t bring herself to understand those who live there and their ideals, let alone trust them. Especially when her blood is no longer a safe refuge either. To prevent being found, she sets out to bring to light the tyranny of Castello, though not in the way she had planned.

With Fire in Their Blood by Kat Delacorte is an outstanding debut novel that I found to be incredibly praiseworthy. It’s a gothic tale in the best way, looking at corrupt politics, complex magic systems, and warring mafia clans. As Delacorte said: “‘They slaughtered you because I told them it would end their pain. Words are strong like that. Words make people believe. Words bought me this city.’” And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good mafia story?

If I’m being honest, my first impression of a book is almost always based on the cover. With Fire in Their Blood has one that I think is absolutely stunning. So, of course, I naturally wanted to read it. And Delacorte did not let me down. After a while reading them, fantasy stories can become predictable. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t enjoy the book, but anticipating the outcome just isn’t a problem. However, I was pleasantly surprised whilst reading With Fire in Their Blood. This may be a hot take, but I wasn’t sure where the story was going to go, and that is something that I think a lot of readers will appreciate. Admittedly, there were certain mysteries that I instantly solved, however, they tended to be smaller reveals. The major plot points twisted in ways I didn’t see coming which kept me on my toes, wanting to read more and more until I found out what holes the keys fit into.

With Fire in Their Blood is also a romance, however, the romance is one that burns very slowly. We are introduced to three different candidates and I personally liked Lilly’s interactions with all of them (I do have a favourite, but I’m not going to spoil). To be honest, it kind of felt like she just had three different romances going on, which is not bad per se, but I did find how she interacted with each of them as though they were the one she’s pining after was slightly strange. It felt more akin to a fan liking multiple fictional characters; I don’t often see a person who interacts with multiple actual people like they are into them, only to seemingly care less once out of their presence. But I was able to brush past that since it was still written in an oddly charismatic way.

Lilly herself is a protagonist that I thought grew to be slightly more morose. She enters Castello as someone spooked by the city's gothic vibe. She has an innocence to her in that she is clearly in the dark about a wider mystery held by the inhabitants. However, when she finds it out, she becomes an irritable person whilst adjusting. When the acceptance hits in, she’s more determined to stand out rather than blend in, stepping forward to help Castello. I liked how her character grew from someone who refused to believe in those around her, to finding people she can trust and the ability to help them and the city. Our other three characters also faced immense growth. Christian goes from a barely existing wimp to bravely putting himself out there. Liza is a playful character who becomes extremely compelling after her backstory is revealed. And Nico, similarly, is found to have an interesting story. His character starts off as a bit of douche, but he gradually grows on the reader. All of the characters in this story are hugely engaging. They’re all written so well that I wouldn’t even be mad if one of them was the main character instead of Lilly. For the most part, characters feel fleshed out, however, that isn’t the case for all of them and I can only assume that’s because the novel is part of a series.

I’d recommend With Fire in Their Blood to anyone who likes gothic romances with a central mystery theme. The story explores a multitude of different romances with multiple characters, not just the main ones. The darker atmosphere of the story gives in a different vibe to classic fantasy stories, however, it is definitely a worthwhile read for YA romance fantasy readers.

All in all, Kat Delacorte has written a dazzling story, omnipresent with personification and sensory language. I have never really gotten into gothic literature before, but this story has opened a whole new selection of books that I can try–especially with how well it is all incorporated in this novel. To think it is a debut is so strange. Delacorte will be creating beautiful stories far into the future, I can just tell. With Fire in Their Blood has been a pleasure to read and I’m glad I got the opportunity. Now to wait for book 2.

“I want to shape the universe in my image, and I don’t want it to fight back."

- Prabhleen is 16 and lives in Hamilton.
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780241487624
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2022
Ages: Young Adult
Themes: Gothic, romance, mystery, fantasy,