Today on the blog, we welcome back the amazing Heidi Heilig—author of the acclaimed The Girl From Everywhere—who returns with her sophomore series, For a Muse of Fire. The book is about Southeast Asian–inspired shadow puppets, necromancy, colonialism, and rebellion and is just as complex and delicious as that sounds. Heilig has been very outspoken about the need for books that address the diversity of humanity, especially when it comes to race, gender, and mental illness. Trust me, this is one you want in your hot little hands RIGHT NOW. Here’s Heidi!
Although Shakespeare invented the idea of a Muse of Fire—one that could help him tell the story of a truly epic king—the Greeks acknowledged nine official Muses. These “Goddesses of the arts and proclaimers of heroes” presided over everything artistic, from dance to poetry, even astronomy. (Pythagoras and Plato believed the stars made music—the “Harmony of the Spheres”—while Aristotle disagreed. It was kind of a Thing. ANYWAY!) Setting aside that ancient beef, let’s talk books!
To celebrate For A Muse of Fire, my mixed-media fantasy about a bipolar shadow player trying to escape her wartorn country, here are nine books that will become your next muse!
To honor Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, read Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds.
Now, on its face, a novel-in-verse about a sixty-second elevator ride might not seem like an epos, but let’s see…We have an extraordinary hero in fifteen-year-old Will, who has shoved a gun his waistband on his way to avenge his brother’s murder. We have superhuman forces when the elevator stops to let on ghosts from Will’s past—ghosts of kids who died by gun violence. And in this story, we definitely have doings that give shape to our own moral universe, that we must understand to know ourselves as a nation. Jason Reynolds’ novel in verse is truly worthy of the gods themselves.
Clio was the muse of history. She’d be all about Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland.
In an alternate history version of the United States, the dead rise from the battle of Gettysburg, and according to the Native and Negro Education Act, “certain children” are given the dangerous task of slaying them. Jane McKeene is among those who attend Miss Preston’s School of Combat in the hopes of becoming an Attendant, trained in weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. But when local families go missing, Jane discovers that the walking dead are the least of her worries. Even though this book is alternate history, Clio (the Proclaimer herself) would love how cleverly it shines a light on the truth behind our country’s history.
Erato was the muse of love poetry. She’d adore Wild Beauty, by Anna-Marie McLemore.
The Nomeolvides women keep a lush estate and a tragic legacy: if any of them fall in love, their lovers disappear. But after generations of vanishings, a mystery boy appears in the gardens, knowing nothing more than his first name. Estrella is the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and as the two piece together his past, the garden reveals secrets both delightful and deadly. This is not a novel in verse, but Anne Marie McLemore’s writing is pure poetry. Erato keeps all of her books on her nightstand.
Euterpe was the muse of music. She’d sing the praises of Wintersong, by S. Jae-Jones.
Ever since she was a little girl, Liesl has been enraptured by stories of the Goblin King. He is her quiet obsession—and the inspiration for her musical compositions. But when he steals away her sister, Liesl must face him in a battle of wits and music to rescue her sister—and herself—from the Underworld. Rich and seductive, Wintersong is an ode to music and magic.
Melpomene was the muse of tragedy. Being Fishkill, by Ruth Lehrer, would make her sob.
Carmel Fishkill was born in the backseat of a moving car, and nothing really got better from there. That is, until she meets Duck Duck Farina, an eccentric optimist who is the only person who can get through Fishkill’s fierce defenses. The two girls form a tentative alliance that blossoms into something much more. But when Fishkill’s unstable mother reappears, this fragile new world comes crashing down. There are no happy endings in tragedy, and this book is no exception. But it will bring you hope as well, and leave you changed, as any good tragedy should.
Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is her nightly prayer.
Xiomara Batiste feels unheard but all too visible in her Harlem neighborhood, where her fists do most of the talking. So she pours her passion and frustration into her notebook in beautiful poems she recites like prayers—but only to herself, since Mami is determined to force her daughter to keep the church’s rules. But when Xiomara is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she has to decide whether to keep the family peace or speak her own truth.
Terpsichore was the muse of dance. Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, would leave her reeling.
Three talented girls, only one prima ballerina at an elite Manhattan school for ballet. When the quest to be the best pits free-spirited Gigi, privileged Bette, and perfectionist June against each other, the girls must manipulate, sacrifice, and backstab their way to center stage. This multi-POV book is itself a complex dance of careful maneuvering and high drama that will have you spinning.
Thalia was the muse of comedy. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, by F.C. Yee ,would make her laugh out loud.
Genie Lo is an overachiever. A winner. A Harvard Hopeful. She’s also a celestial spirit strong enough to break the Gates of Heaven with her fists. And when hellspawn from Chinese folklore start to overrun her sleepy Bay Area suburb, Genie has to learn how to summon her inner power to defeat the demons, all while keeping her grades top-tier. By turns epic and absurd, this book will have you laughing loud enough to shake Heaven and Hell both.
Urania was the muse of astronomy. The Star-Touched Queen, by Roshani Chokshi, would leave her basking in its celestial glow.
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she turns to scholarly pursuits instead—until her father, the Raja, arranges a marriage to quash a rebellion. But instead of doom and gloom, she finds her voice, her power, even passion. Still, her new home has many secrets, and soon she suspects her life is in danger. Aside from her husband, who can she trust? Wielding glorious prose, ancient mysteries, and the fickle fates, Roshani Chokshi is truly a master of the musica universalis.