Hot New Parable Novel? Firelight by Sophie Jordan

One of my younger boys’ favorite book series is Warriors by Erin Hunter, actually several series now of novels about feral cats. They enjoy it so much that they have written stories along Warrior lines just one step short of fan fiction and written to the author. Last Saturday the author wrote back.

To say the letter left them a little confused, albeit still delighted to have received any response, is to put it mildly. It turns out the author isn’t really the author but one of four authors, that the idea wasn’t hers but a publishing house’s idea that they shopped to several writers, and that the name ‘Erin Hunter’ is a pseudonym that was chosen so the Warrior books would be shelved in bookstores in close proximity to Brian Jacques’ Redwall books (all of which my boys and I have read and loved). Did the form letter have to be that informative?

Probably not. It also didn’t seem to have diminished my boys’ ardor for all things Warriors. They spent the next day writing their responses back to ‘Erin Hunter’ rather than the real world UK writer who leads the Warriors writing team.

I bring all this up because there is a hot new Young Adult title, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, that came out earlier this month and has all the right ingredients for a new mania (in fact, I learned about it because Entertainment Weekly is already speculating about Firelight’s prospects as a film property, two weeks after its publication: hat-tip, Arabella!). The book is about a teen girl who is a draki, a dragon that is able to transfigure into human shape. You can read the synopsis of her debut novel on the book’s Amazon page but rest assured she has two boyfriends mysteriously attracted to her, the new girl in a high school in a relatively remote location, and the story turns in large part on her freedom to be who she is on her own terms, i.e., a paranormal or supernatural wonder that normal people cannot understand.

As everything from the title  plot, and characters to the film franchise chatter screams, the book is a Twilight knock-off aimed squarely at the supposedly strictly-teen-girls reading audience of the Forks Saga. The slick packaging — a video on the Amazon page for a new release from the writer of formula bodice rippers and paranormal romances? — and the accompanying hype and buzz suggest, like the Warriors, that this book could have its “inspiration” from the marketing division of a Big Five publishing house.

Does this mean the book necessarily is trash “unworthy of adult attention,” as Harold Bloom or William Safire might say? Not “necessarily” or even “probably.” I look forward to reading it and will almost certainly write about it here, especially if the book plays with any of Twilight‘s larger themes or its story scaffolding.

What I want to note here is, as I wrote last week, one of the more notable consequences of Potter-mania, the decade long fascination with all things Harry and Hogwarts, is the re-birth or postmodern genesis of the traditional novel, i.e., fiction that is essentially and powerfully allegorical into which a reader enters for edifying experience, even transformation. Harry Potter has effectively revealed both the barrenness of the art novel, the literary piece confined to psychological exploration and magisterial prose, as well as the global audience hungrily waiting for reading adventures that promise ego transcendence and some contact through story and symbols with ‘greater-than-me’ realities.

The novels that deliver this kind of mythic or religious experience — and, yes, stuffing the books with alchemical elements, writing ring compositions, and creating prolonged series really seems to help — will hit the proverbial jackpot. Why? For the simple reason that they are meeting a human need, a spiritual longing marginalized if not denied in a secular culture (cue ‘Eliade thesis’). Yes, there will certainly be books that attempt to exploit this newly-revealed audience with knock-off writing that doesn’t capture the magic of the original. Perhaps Firelight is one of these books; I know many readers think Twilight is that kind of book relative to Harry Potter (as, of course, many Tolkienites believe Potter is to the Master Work {TM}).

True or not true, I think the important thing to note with these ‘Young Adult’ books that aren’t really ‘Young Adult’ books — I give you Mockingjay and The Knife of Never Letting Go, not to mention Deathly Hallows or Breaking Dawn, as sufficient argument on this point — is that their depth makes their categorization as “juvenile” only a tragicomic reflection of the reading tastes of the category-makers and shadow-casters. They’re allegorical or parable novels whose story transparencies and translucencies touch, spur, even illumine the human heart, the Primary Imagination.

If this new genre, which is really only a return to Austen and Dickens and the sort of books which require and reward “penetration” or “slow mining,” inspires a bunch of wannabes that really don’t get it, exploitation pieces, I can live with that.

Your comments and corrections, as always, are coveted.


  1. Arabella Figg says

    This summer I read the first two books in Alyson Noel’s imaginative Immortals series. The books plugged into the current supernatural parameters. The writing was good, but I didn’t enjoy them that much, and decided to not continue, because the elements seemed too plugged in, as if written by committe with a checklist. However, you might want to check them out, because this series may go further than the books.

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