Too Kawaii To Live, Too Sugoi To Die

Fire & Flood  - Victoria Scott
There's a part of me that doesn't like her considering us tools in this race. I just want… for these people to be my friends.

Take that as fair warning should you decide to pick this one up. Also:

Do NOT expect The Hunger Games' depth.

Do NOT look for Dante Walker's charming snark.

Do NOT expect to like the heroine. Only a few will get this analogy but she's Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi with a cuddly wolf-like Pokemon shoved to survive a Lord of the Flies/The Amazing Race hybrid of a predicament in order to win a cure for her sickly older brother Cody.

Her name is Tella Holloway. She now lives in Montana with her parents, transplanted from Boston because her brother is sick. Like going to die eventually sick. She receives a listening device that tells her she has been selected to be a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed, a race where the ultimate prize is the ultimate cure for her brother's ultimately unnamed ailment. Which of course she joins because A) that's what you do when these strange circumstances happen to you and B) she's bored as hell in Montana.

Oh alright, she also cares for her brother and wants him to live long and prosper. Plus mom gave her a lucky feather to wear which would be totally bizarre outside the context of a strange mysterious race.

Anyway, contingent to joining this race is that she has to choose a Pandora to accompany and help her. At the beginning of the story they come into a house with eggs that eventually hatch into curious creatures with special abilities meant to protect and help them make it through the dire conditions of the contest. The Brimstone Bleed will last for three months where they are directed to find the base camp in each of four ecosystems: jungle, desert, mountains and sea with each leg yielding a winner, earning them a minor prize and a choice. As with how most of this stories go, other Contenders and their own Pandoras get incorporated in Tella's quest: a gorgeous amazonian blonde (Harper), redhead twin boys (Levi and Ransom), an unlikely pair of a middle aged woman (Caroline) and a young boy (Dink), the cruel sinister boy (Titus) and the ruthlessly methodical young man who seem to know more about the race than he lets on (Guy).

The thing is, Fire & Flood had an interesting story to tell. I like that it isn't entirely a rehash of what THG set out to accomplish and had some original ideas in the Pandoras and okay, an unlikely heroine. I like the imagination and personality behind the creatures the most and I do appreciate the effort to give the readers something different, despite the feeling that their sole purpose was to manipulate me into liking Tella by proximity.

It took me a bit of time trying to figure out what Victoria Scott is trying to cut across writing her lead character like Tella. There was very shallow character build up in the beginning for this heroine. It feels like carrying out a personal conversation with a complete stranger who talk as if you're BFFs right off the bat. Which of course rubbed me the wrong way because you know, introduce yourself first FFS. That's what rational people are inclined to do after all.

So I get dragged into this "adventure" with a virtual stranger who gradually starts to grate on my nerves with her observations, her godawful singing (I HATE any form of singing when its done out of context. The only context acceptable being: drunk in a karaoke bar or forced at gun-point.) then it clicks: she's a shoujo anime heroine! The ditzy, clueless, goofy and hokey type trying to survive while away from her usual comforts but is going to kick everyone's ass down the line.

The only thing I can think while I'm swallowing a hunk of snake is that I am the type of person to have three glittery feather boas draped over my dresser mirror at home: purple, pink and red. And now I am eating a snake.

So I could get down with that. I mean I survived (half of) Sailormoon and Fushigi Yuugi (the entirety WITH OAVs) this will be great.

Then she jumped into that swamp-river to save a drowning woman (without good cause, probably screaming "Too kawaii to live, too sugoi to die!" while doing it) who got saved by an eight year old boy instead… leaving Tella as the new other victim the rest of the group has to save.

I'm fine with ditzy so long as there's some saving aspect to the ditzy heroine's character. Unfortunately Tella's more of a spectator than a doer. Or if she does anything its towards the ends of being the victim to be saved and make allowances for by everyone around her. She WATCHES. Not in the voyeuristic sense but in the I'm-an-innocent-bystander-in-a-chaotic-hotel-lobby sense. Someone in the group starts to vomit? She CALLS someone to attend to the person. She wakes up realizing she's sleeping on a bed while the rest are sleeping on the floor? She goes back to sleep. And so on and so forth. But when she decides to meddle its out of impulse with catastrophic consequences.

It's like an infinite well of effort NOT to redeem her.

Such that in the second half of the book when some effort was exerted to present her in a more favorable light, the aftertaste of her earlier behavior just refuses to wash out. Her humor fell flat, her antics just sends my eyes to roll seismically particularly with the introduction of that WTF romantic angle. I suppose having someone muscled and tattooed in the story, it was bound to happen. 

Guy as a hero was all about the knuckle cracking, cliche dishing and intense gazing. Beyond that… well he has a fire-breathing lion for a Pandora so he has that working out for him. So yeah, I guess yay, Guy-Tella! (I have a sudden hankering for Nutella.)

I do have an issue with Guy keeping his secret for the majority of the book. Because WHY? There was no burden really on him to keep that from everyone else. Or if there is I don't get it. I also spent the great majority of this book nitpicking the details of the Brimstone Bleed: because overanalyzing me is having an issue with a Contender racing to save someone dying of Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis versus someone racing to save a child with Rhabdomyosarcoma. Fortunately it was explained, though rather insubstantially with lots of logic and motivational holes. Unfortunately its at the very end.

I did like some of the reveals towards the end, though the entire scene in the last sequence came across shoddy and rather messy. People were turning up out of nowhere, damning temporal continuity and circumstance. Jaxon and Olivia's introduction late in the story made them out as token additions. Emotional manipulation was on full blast with the last instruction in the race. Though the last one I didn't mind much I did like the Pandoras.

I am reluctant to continue with this series because on the one hand the ending holds some promise to expanding the intriguing premise of the Brimstone Bleed.

On the other, there's Tella.

I'm just a girl who loves purple and Greek food and mani-pedis and singing out of tune. A girl who would give almost anything to be away from here and magically back in Boston, hanging out with her best friend, Hannah. I'm just a girl who thought she could save her brother.

ARC provided by Scholastic Press thru Netgalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review. Quotes may not appear on the final edition.