on 5 August 2011
Balefire has the honour of being the only book series I've completely re-read so far in my lifetime; it was not out of choice however. I originally purchased the first 3 books via the internet back in my teens; the books were never officially printed in the UK so I had to make do with the sporadic Amazon orders to read the series. However before I could my hands on the final book the series had gone out of print everywhere. After failing for several years to find the final book for less than £100, I accepted that I would never know how Balefire ends. With the recent boom in teen fiction, and Cate Tiernan gearing promotion for her newest novel (Immortal Beloved), her previous works were re-released in omnibus editions - including all 4 Balefire instalments in one thick book.
Thais' world is turned upside down when her father suddenly passes away, and she's sent to live in New Orleans with an unknown woman by the name of Axelle. Away from home, friends, family and suffering a lose, finding out you have a twin sister on your first day of a new school is the last thing you need! Clio can't believe it either, as she sees her identical twin just as her life as a witch, her new love of her life and friendships all seem to be coming together. But with their fateful encounter, they set of a chain reaction of an ancient coven from 250 years ago waiting for the twins arrival, to use their unique powers for their own means, or to kill them...
The series is 4 books long; Cate Tiernan originally (according to an interview) had the story planned for more volumes, but due to low sales the series was cut short of its true conclusion. This won't be noticeable at first but by the end you'll notice story threads left unfinished, character motives never fully explained, an ending that's heart-warming but cliff-hanger and a few plot conveniences to make the story flow towards an end. None of them are story-killing or make the series unworthy your time, if anything the unfinished project will make you wish for more and imagine what could have occurred if the series kept going until Cate Tiernan's planned ending.
You'll noticed several clichés from the synopsis on the back of the book, as well as the first instalment of the series; the whole `OMG we're separated at birth and discover each other's existence by pure chance!' has been done to death, and not just by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson. The only thing that makes this twin dynamic interesting enough to pick it up is that one of them was raised a magical witch, the other hasn't; allowing the switch from one twin acting as a reader's insight into the series who is also being introduced to the world of Balefire for the first time, and the other sister to help speed up some of the slower moments of the book with her feisty attitude and already acquired knowledge. Plus the potential to create powerful spells and being from a long line of an ancient coven aiming to re-create a circle formed over 250 years old makes the unoriginal twin-idea a lot more appealing to the judgemental eye but an easy angle to lure the typical teen reader in. Outside of the twin's first person view we also have a good half of the series told in 3rd person view from all 13 members of the Treize coven; all of them adults, have deep histories that really enrich the background story and add an unique dynamic you don't often find in young adult books. The good thing also is that all 13 members contribute towards the plot and have different relations to the twins, so they're not just there for shallow purposes such as complimenting on how powerful the twins are.
Though the story starts with familiar ground, it's eventual direction does take it to a whole new level, the sisters open Pandora's box by discovering each other and over the 4 books the mess becomes more immense; they affect all the coven's lives, their own, their normal human friends, the world and so on. By the 4th book the girl's start to turn to dark magick when white magick just seems to be getting them nowhere, and with someone constantly trying to kill them, they can't see any other way out of their situation. This is on top of the 13 witches they must deal with and their problems; some see the twins are a threat, a few love them and other's motives aren't entirely clear. There's sex, betrayal, death and sacrifice; several themes that some parents may object to but they are never played for the shock factor, they gradual build to these themes and the darker turn of events towards the 4th book is actually when the series starts to really come into its own, just before it's cut short by the publishers.
What interested me the most however was my altered view for the series; I remember reading as a teen and really liking the romances of the main characters, re-reading several sections of the first book where the twins fall for Andre/Luc. As now an adult, I look at the same scenes and not enjoying them as much but instead drawing my attentions to the side characters and their complex relationships. Cate Tiernan does a fantastic job of creating this huge history, magic and world surrounding the series; the story is over 250 years old and all 13 members of the old coven have interwoven affairs, secrets and goals they wish to achieve, even in the last novel there's still tons of threads to unravel and revelations to keep you really enticed in their lives. I especially noticed the relationship between Sophie and Manon - the latter is trapped in a 13 year old girl's body and is in a relationship with an adult looking woman; it was very different and I wanted to know about their struggles and how they managed to live with their situation. Marcel's road to redemption and his constant struggle with his dark past and hatred for Richard was also a great read. Admittedly it can be hard to keep on top with everything that's happening half the time but I consider that a good thing; I wanted to connect all the dots and see how everyone was going to end up. Considering the large cast it can be hard to care about all of them, but I did. Cate Tiernan did a great job of weaving everything musically and beautifully, all the characters had their quirks and personalities you could relate to, even for the characters you disagreed with you keep to the page to find out what happened next.
As for the main characters and their relationships; reading as a 23 year old adult, I found it shallow, lust based and all the lines of `my soul mate' and `I was made for you' just felt forced and false. This especially goes for Luc and Thais; Clio got far more lines and scenes with him across the whole series, yet it's Thais and Luc that are apparently two halves of a whole, and on every page I just couldn't shake the feeling like I had missed several chapters because their relationship seemed too pushed. Even Clio and Richard, though their scenes got better as it went on, had moments where it seemed to suddenly jump up the emotional ladder just to keep things moving rather than develop naturally. I think it had more to do with the strict 4-book run Cate had to work from, or least I hope it is.
Balefire isn't going to set the world on fire, or shake your perspective on young adult fiction in general, but if you are looking for something a bit different from the current market, something from not as hyped but talented writer, Balefire is a good pick.