So Let Them Burn | Kamilah Cole


Coming January 16th, 2024 from Little, Brown Young Readers; 400 pages

Content Warning: Racism, colonization, depictions of trauma from war, fantasy violence, loss of parents

About the Author: “Kamilah Cole is the pseudonym of a Jamaican-born, American-raised author. By day she works in publishing and by night she frantically types words she hopes to see in a book on shelves one day. In the past, she’s also worked as a journalist and at a hotel, two jobs that give you amazing stories to tell at parties. You know, if she went to parties.

A graduate of New York University, Kamilah is currently based in the Tri-State Area, where she’s usually playing Kingdom Hearts for the hundredth time, quoting early Spongebob Squarepants episodes, or crying her way through Zuko’s redemption arc in Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Bio from author’s website).

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“She was their chosen champion. She was their connection to the mortal plane. She was the weapon they had pointed at the Langley Empire and their beasts of fire, and what had she ever gotten in return?”

Five years ago, Faron Vincent of Jamaica-inspired San Irie channeled the power of the gods to protect her country from the onslaught of the Langley Empire and their dragons in a brutal war. Her older sister, Elara, fought in the war as a simple ground soldier, but she wants more—her own mark on history. When Elara bonds with a Langlish dragon during an international peace summit, she gets way more than she asked. Aveline, the Iryan queen, asks Elara to spy on Langley under the guise of training as a dragon Rider. Meanwhile, the gods command Faron to kill her sister. Desperate for another solution, Faron barters with an imprisoned god, Elara uncovers shocking secrets within the Langley Empire, and both sisters make pivotal choices that will shape the fates of themselves and their country.

The fascinating premise for So Let Them Burn sent my expectations soaring but, unfortunately, this book was a huge disappointment. Let’s start with the good: Cole undoubtedly knows how to craft intricate descriptions that befit a fantasy novel, and her determination to tackle colonization and its lingering effects is admirable. However, I found the execution lacking, particularly the world-building and characterization. The author’s choice to set this book after a major historical event in this world, the first war between San Irie and Langley, kind of necessitates the book’s constant info-dumping, but it doesn’t make it less tedious. We’re only given glimpses of this war—which sounds much more interesting than the actual plot—through long, awkwardly thrown-in paragraphs. 

The characters also suffer from poor writing choices. Elara went through (what should’ve been) emotional, world-shattering scenes, but they fell completely flat. For instance, she loses her hereditary Iryan magic of astral-calling when she bonds with the Langlish dragon, but she barely spares a paragraph’s worth of thought on it. Faron is continually angry at everyone’s perception of her as a childish brat, but she never does anything to disprove this notion. Her immense godly powers are wasted on her inability to critically think about the consequences of her actions. I wasn’t interested in the sisters as much as I was in Aveline, a child-queen forced to lead her people to victory in the first war and shoulder the weight of fraught diplomatic relations with a colonizing empire. I would’ve loved to see more of her. Additionally, the flat characterization of primordial beings such as gods and dragons is such a tragedy. Cole attempted to portray the Iryan gods as otherworldly and unfathomable, but they instead come across as boring, insipid, and painfully shallow. The characters revere the dragons as wise, inhumanely powerful beasts, but nothing in the book proves that sentiment. For all their supposed wisdom, the dragons still fight on behalf of colonizers. I have to assume that this is their choice, if apparently they are far mightier than humans and cannot be forced to work against their will.

Despite my disappointment with So Let Them Burn, Kamilah Cole has the potential to breathe novelty into the fantasy genre with her unique ideas, and I look forward to future works from her.

Aruna Sreenivasan, Pine Reads Review Assistant Director, Web Manager, & Editor