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From bestselling and award-winning author Traci Chee comes a standalone fantasy set against a war-ravaged world where kindling warfare-the use of elite, magic-wielding teenage soldiers-has been outlawed. In this rich and evocative novel, seven kindlings search for purpose and identity as they prepare for one final battle. For fans of the classic films Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.

Once, the war was fought with kindlings-elite, magic-wielding warriors whose devastating power comes at the cost of their own young lives.

Now the war is over, and kindlings have been cast adrift-their magic outlawed, their skills outdated, their formidable balar weapons prized only as relics and souvenirs.

Violence still plagues the countryside, and memories haunt those who remain. When a village comes under threat of siege, it offers an opportunity for seven kindlings to fight one last time. But war changed these warriors. And to reclaim who they once were, they will have to battle their pasts, their trauma, and their grim fates to come together again-or none of them will make it out alive.

From bestselling and award-winning author Traci Chee comes a gut-wrenching, introspective fantasy about seven lost soldiers searching for the peace they once fought for and the future in which they're finally daring to believe.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 02/19/2024

Employing simple yet brutal worldbuilding rendered in raw prose, Chee (A Thousand Steps into Night) offers an unflinching look into the horrors of war in this Seven Samurai–inspired tale. To help protect her community from raiders, a youth from the small farming village of Camas sets out in search of kindlings, magical soldiers who were conscripted as children into a centuries-long war between opposing nations. After the conflict, during which they burned out their powers and themselves, the kindlings inhabit a country plagued by violence that has outlawed the very magic it once used for its own purposes. Living as houseless, orphaned drifters—whose kin were either purged from record or paid off—some kindlings use their diminished but no less powerful skills for professions considered more unsavory. As the farm girl embarks on her quest, she sets off a chain of events that will bring together seven kindlings for one last battle. Chee expertly conveys the characters’ personalities, cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds via a second-person narrative that decisively differentiates the large cast’s voices. Teeming with frank examinations of war, violence, PTSD, imperialism, colonialism, and all they entail, this somber fantasy will challenge readers mentally and emotionally. Ages 14–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

"A heartrending, must-read fantasy about youth searching for home and learning to survive a world not designed for them." — School Library Journal (starred review)

"Both a mesmerizing fantasy adventure and a haunting meditation on shared trauma." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A thorough and gut-wrenching exploration of finding reasons to move forward after devastating loss and darkness and how community and connection can breed hope that will linger with readers long after the last page." — Booklist (starred review)

"Teeming with frank examinations of war, violence, PTSD, imperialism, colonialism, and all they entail, this somber fantasy will challenge readers mentally and emotionally." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Inventive." — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

School Library Journal

★ 03/01/2024

Gr 10 Up—What happens when all you've ever known is outlawed? The kindling, elite magic-wielding warriors, torn away from their families at age five and trained to fight and die as child soldiers, find themselves without a future since the war ended. Out of touch with society, seven kindling begrudgingly band together in their nation's countryside to help a small village defend themselves against ruthless raiders. While this fight reignites their instinctual purpose, each kindling must battle their own demons if they wish to succeed in much more than a village's final stand. Chee pays tribute to the iconic film Seven Samurai with a reimagining in which seven soldiers (all female and nonbinary) struggle with the broken promises their country raised them on. In a story that neatly balances eight perspectives, each kindling is unique, highlighting the fallout of the choices made by the powerful that are championed by those with no other choice. The second-person narration quickly builds empathy and understanding for the characters as it's implied that readers are fellow kindling. In true Chee fashion, the story turns a tale of seven soldiers' final battle to one of seven human beings evaluating the hopes, dreams, and future they've lost. The kindling's experiences ultimately mirror today's teens finding their place in the world; choosing what they'll fight for and standing with loved ones despite the uncertainty. VERDICT A heartrending, must-read fantasy about youth searching for home and learning to survive a world not designed for them.—Emily Walker

APRIL 2024 - AudioFile

Featuring an ensemble cast, this audiobook introduces teenaged female soldiers known as "kindlings." Trained to kill from the age of five by using magic that drains their lifespan, they are now prohibited from using their skills. But violence lingers, and seven kindlings join together for one last fight to save a country village. Despite the use of an individual narrator to deliver each character's perspective, the second-person point of view makes it difficult to differentiate characters. Furthermore, the slight differences in each narrator's portrayal of other characters may confuse listeners. However, each narrator completely commits to their assigned role, embodying the collective trauma of the past and present and vividly bringing these haunted characters to life. A.K.R. © AudioFile 2024, Portland, Maine

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2023-12-16
Cast adrift after the war that they were created to fight, seven magical warriors search for meaning in the defense of a mountain village.

In a tale explicitly inspired by the Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai, the seven teens—six use she/her pronouns, and one uses they/them —are drawn together by a variety of acknowledged motives: duty, fulfillment, the promise of spoils. But what keeps them together is their brutal history and the kinship it has forged. Yanked from their homes at age 5, kindlings have been shaped into killing machines, expert both in ordinary weaponry and in summoning the blazing balar magic that literally burns its wielders out by their late teens. Chee assembles a cast that is both clearly individuated and collective. With the character perspective shifting chapter by chapter, the consistent use of the second person and occasional occurrences of us or we emphasize the group identity. Sentences frequently end in em dashes, strung in truncated paragraphs that highlight the kindlings’ feelings of brokenness; parenthetical statements express uncomfortable truths: “You believed in the code. You would’ve killed for it— / (You did kill for it.) / You would’ve died for it— / (You almost did—).” A complex cosmology lends texture to a world that features racial, sexual, and gender diversity; the kindlings share a common phenotype, with “angular” eyes, straight black hair, and skin in shades of brown or tan.

Both a mesmerizing fantasy adventure and a haunting meditation on shared trauma. (map) (Fantasy. 13-adult)

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159758729
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 02/27/2024
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 329,737
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