Trial by Fire caught me slightly off-guard as I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. I wavered on how to rate this one because I really love the concept of the story even though the first four or so chapters are utter crap. The story revolves around a high school student in Salem who suffers from insanely high fevers, allergies and illnesses. Lily's sickly nature isolates her from her peers and her only friend is playboy Tristan. After a nasty fight and humiliating night with her BFF, Lily hears a familiar voice asking if she's ready to leave her world. Lily consents to leaving her world during a moment of despair over a worthless boy and is brought to an alternate version of Salem by a powerful witch named Lillian (who is a version of Lily in this universe).
Lillian's motives for bringing Lily into her universe remain somewhat of a mystery as this is the first installment of a book series and it sets up the story for future books, but it appears Lillian has some valid reason for wanting Lily's help even though she's portrayed as an irrational and evil villain. Lily has to adapt to this new world and learn how to control her growing powers as a witch under the mistrustful watch of Rowan, other-Tristan, and Caleb. Her character undergoes tremendous growth and tries to use her abilities for the good of others even though it comes at a great personal cost. It has the potential to be an epic story full of intrigue, romance, magic and drama.
The story has a hook, but the promise is never fulfilled. I blame the boys.
Tristan, Caleb and Rowan are charming hot rebels and for some reason they're all attracted to Lily in some capacity despite the fact that she looks exactly like their arch-nemesis Lillian. It is also nearly impossible to differentiate between Rowan, Tristan and Caleb because their mannerisms, speech and personalities are more identical than Lily and Lillian.
Lily and Rowan's attachment to one another is rather creepy since Rowan is Lillian's ex-boyfriend and their relationship was definitely not some meaningless fling. I found Lily's interactions with the guys to be disturbing, especially since she's a virginal figure who is required to strip off all of her clothing to perform a powerful spell lest her fever get too high.
***MAJOR EYE ROLLING***
The romance and angst wasn't my cup of tea, but the most glaring problem with the book is the plot and world-building. The political storyline is incredibly cartoonish. The plot enacted by Gideon and his minions to overthrow the witches is laughable, as is Lillian's mission to ravage the world before it destroys itself. The power struggle is a farce and lacked the tension and complexity that should be present in a world on the verge of civil war. I also couldn't visualize this alternate universe. Alternate Salem is like pseudo-medieval Europe with a castle, citadel, dungeons, herbal remedies, men with crossbows, and elite women who wear "ornate gowns" and style their hair with long braids. Yet there's electricity, greenhouses, modern glass buildings and cafes. This "other" world is a weird mash-up of aristocratic and contemporary influence minus the industrial revolution. I don't get it - but there's a part of me that still wants to understand this world.