In Josephine Angelini’s Trial by Fire, the whole world is a trial for Lily Proctor. Born with life-threatening allergies, Lily can’t enjoy the youthful hijinks of her peers in Salem, but the support of her handsome best friend and crush Tristan makes life bearable, especially since he’s going to escort her to her first high school party. But after he causes her humiliation in front of half the school, Lily wishes she could disappear…and she does, to a different Salem surrounded by deadly creatures and ruled by the magical Crucibles, a world in which her doppleganger Lillian is the most powerful witch around. Drawn by a sickly Lillian for a mysterious purpose, Lily finds refuge with Lillian’s enemies, who want to use her to overthrow the system. At first, Lily just wants to get back to where she’s from, but soon she begins to believe in the cause and revel in the strength she wields here unlike at home.
For a trilogy called “Worldwalker,” the world-building was chaotic. Little is explained about the political and magical structures in alternate universe Salem, and what is explained doesn’t answer any of my pressing questions, like why Lillian began all of this and the weird slave-like bond between mechanics and crucibles. At first, I was intrigued at the connection Angelini established between magic and science, with certain herbal supplements or chemicals boosting specific abilities, but it got real weird around the time of sexually-induced healing between Lily and Rowan. Though scientists exist, magic takes the place that scientific advancement holds in our world and Lily often muses about the dichotomies that causes with thermodynamics, genetic modification, and pollution. But we have to take a lot of it in faith, because behind the words is an absence of exposition beyond the condescending info-dumping from the mouths of the rebels into the ears of the babe.
Lily, the babe in both the new and attractive model-thin/gorgeous hair sense, mostly just irritated me. At first, I like her for her geekiness and veganism, militant though it was. I also appreciated the realism of her shock and skepticism about the new world she was in, but her trust in complete strangers was absurd, dim-witted, and clearly misplaced. She didn’t even hear out Lillian’s side of the story, but because of what her handsome captors Rowan and Tristan* tell her, she’s willing to fight for them – Stockholm Syndrome much? Also, Lily magically (pun intended) becomes great at wielding her powers quite quickly and gets three special willstones to show her specialness, yet relies heavily on men, one of whom tried to kill her and the other who is a whiny player. Clearly, I didn’t like either of them much either, particularly the manipulative, controlling Rowan, who easily transfers his affections from Lillian to Lily.
There also was numerous secondary characters in Lily’s life, such as protective but idiotic big sister Juliet, token diversity Caleb, and twisted Gideon, but none were terribly well-rounded. They mostly existed to aid the ridiculousness of the plot from magical clubbing adventures to half-assed kidnapping-and-torture plots. Like many YA fantasies, this book contained an original concept (i.e. the parallel universe and science as magic) that was poorly executed, especially the ridiculous fire-burning, universe-hopping ending. Overall, nothing much was revealed after the tedious plodding through plot-holes and the characters are cliches, so I definitely won’t continue on world-walking with them.
*This designates the Tristan that exists in the other magical Salem as distinct from normal, non-magical Salem.