Set Fire to the Gods by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons

Set Fire to the Gods by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons
Publisher: Balzer and Bray
Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Ash is descended from a long line of gladiators, and she knows the brutal nature of war firsthand. But after her mother dies in an arena, she vows to avenge her by overthrowing her fire god, whose temper has stripped her country of its resources.

Madoc grew up fighting on the streets to pay his family’s taxes. But he hides a dangerous secret: he doesn’t have the earth god’s powers like his opponents. His elemental gift is something else—something that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

When an attempted revenge plot goes dangerously wrong, Ash inadvertently throws the fire and earth gods into a conflict that can only be settled by deadly, lavish gladiator games, throwing Madoc in Ash’s path. She realizes that his powers are the weapon her rebellion needs—but Madoc won’t jeopardize his family, regardless of how intrigued he is by the beautiful warrior.

But when the gods force Madoc’s hand, he and Ash uncover an ancient war that will threaten more than one immortal—it will unravel the world.

After reading the words Avatar-The Last Airbender meets Gladiator in the blurb, there was no way I couldn’t read this book. I went in with very high expectations, and I’m very happy to report that the authors exceeded them.

Set Fire to the Gods by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons is told from dual points of view, and the two narrators couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds. Ash is the last in a long line of famed gladiators, and no stranger to using her elemental fire. She understands her responsibilities but finds no joy in the arena. Madoc, on the other hand, has no elemental gift but has still managed to make a name for himself in street fights (earning money to feed his family). When circumstances force them together, they end up setting a chain of events into motion that will change their world forever.

I’m a big fan of mythology, and I practically squealed when I learned this book features its own unique pantheon. The interactions between these gods reminded me a lot of how the Greek and Roman gods brought mortals into the middle of their disputes. I’m at the point where it’s very hard for an author to surprise me with a story based on classical mythology (because I’ve read so much), but I enjoyed how the authors of this book were able to keep me on the edge of my seat and throw in a lot of unexpected twists. The dynamics of how each of the elemental gifts work was also a highlight.

While the book is compared to Avatar The Last Airbender and Gladiator, I was also reminded of The Hunger Games. Citizens are forced to fight for the pleasure of those in power, and while winning gladiators are promised a life of comfort, they never really earn true freedom (similar to the Victors of Panem). Fights are slightly fairer in this book though, as gladiators are not children and they do receive training before they are forced to compete in the arena.

Please note, this book does feature the on-page death of a parent. While in some books you could skip over the triggering event, that isn’t really possible as it occurs towards the beginning of the story and is referenced multiple times in subsequent chapters.

I’m eager to learn how this story ends in the sequel, Rise Up From the Embers. Readers can expect action-packed fight scenes, an exciting magic system, and off-the-charts world-building when they pick up this book. I would happily recommend it to fantasy readers at the young adult level and above.