Before She Ignites Brings Dragons Back to YA

Written by Guest Contributor Marissa Brantley

Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows is doing the good work of bringing dragons back in the lives of YA readers. Have we had a good dragon series since Eragon? I don’t thinks so. Even better, the main character is a woman of color who struggles with mental illness, while still getting’ it done.

Mira Minkoba struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness, which is made worse when she is imprisoned the harshest prison in her land. She’s been pampered, protected, and sheltered her entire life and now she has no one and nothing to depend on but herself. The descriptions of her panic attacks, and how she fights through them with counting and little mantras, is incredibly realistic and relatable. Many who struggle with mental illness know the feelings of weakness and inferiority well. Myself included. But while it’s a struggle for her, it does not define her or cripple her ability to fight.

Insecurity seems to rule her most of the time, but more than that she is a kind and very intelligent person. Mira Minkoba shares a lot of similarities to Daenerys Targaryen, in that she is a quiet, sweet-natured character who’s thrown into an unfamiliar and brutal setting. Also, she loves dragons. That too.

She’s not the only character we see struggle with fear and anxiety. Her love interest is not a charming, sword-wielding hero, but a quiet, steadfast partner. Their slow-burning romance is sweet and swoon-inducing while remaining very genuine and natural.

Many times, when we read or watch a story focused in an unforgiving setting, survival takes precedence over kindness and loyalty. But here, kindness is not painted as a weakness, but as a strength. Mira is not naturally strong and fiery, but her empathy actually helps her. 

The world-building is done thoughtfully, and the details unravel naturally. Meadows slowly unveils complex, political and belief systems with unique and diverse cultures trying to live together. There’s a commentary on the hate and discrimination that people who are different receive. Meadows leaves a lot of room for the characters to grow and the world to become more layered throughout the trilogy, so I’ll be curious to see how the story unfolds.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced plot, with a fiery heroine, and epic action sequences, this is not for you. Much of the story is featured in a prison, and much of the focus is on political intrigue and inner struggles rather than heart-racing adventures. But there’s something touching and inspiriting. Frankly, I love heroines who are not naturally brave and good, that have to struggle and fight through their fears and demons.

This book features main characters who are people of color written by a white author. There is a good argument for white authors not to write main characters of color, as it takes up an opportunity for people of color to lend their unique voices and perspectives. While diverse characters are a good thing, where is the line for white writers, particularly in a fantasy genre? In Before She Ignites, the character’s skin color does not dictate their experience in the world, and instead, it’s used as a descriptor. The division we see in the Fallen Isles comes from one’s nationality rather than their skin color. I don’t see Meadows as trying to speak to that experience. But, I am not a person of color, and I’m not going to tell people how to feel about it.

 

Marissa is a grad school student, writer, and feminist who’s surviving Arkansas in our current political climate. She gets through it with her two fluffy cats and her Hufflepuff tendencies. 

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Previously disguised as a college professor and family lawyer, JC Lau is an Australian video game journalist and writer living in Seattle.

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