Author: Brigid Kemmerer (author website)
Release Date: September 2012 by Allen & Unwin
Age Group: Young Adult
There’s no denying Brigid Kemmerer took the blogosphere by, well, ’storm’ earlier this year with her debut novel, so it comes as little surprise her sophomore release, Spark, is just as incendiary. So, now I’m satisfied it’s not possible to include any additional puns in this paragraph, let’s talk about what makes Spark so damn good.
Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally.
Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can’t. Like the fire that killed his parents.
Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he’s not doing it.
More than Gabriel’s pride is at stake -- this could cost him his family, maybe his life. And no one seems to hear him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Layne understands family problems, and she understands secrets. She has a few of her own.
Gabriel can’t let her guess about his brothers, about his abilities, about the danger that’s right at his heels. But there are some risks he can’t help taking.
The fuse is lit...
The Story:It's never been more dangerous to be an Elemental. 'Gifted' with the ability to control fire, Gabriel Merrick is explosive as his element, and after recent attacks on his family by 'Guides'—the body that governs elementals, and executes full-blooded ones like Gabriel and his three brothers—it feels like his ability to hold it together is more tenuous than ever. The fact that he’s failing his classes and has been caught out for cheating is just one more step towards breaking, not to mention the recent spate of torched homes, and that the fire department seems to think he's a suspect.
Then along comes Layne. A quiet, shy, brainiac, Gabriel’s sat next to her in calculus for ages, but it’s only now that he notices her. Well, Layne’s sure noticed him, and as she helps him with his study, the two can’t deny the chemistry they share. While Layne has dark, painful secrets of her own, Gabriel’s may just get them both killed...
My Thoughts:Storm left off, Brigid wastes no time jumping straight into the action. The familiar rhythm of her prose returns, as does her razor sharp dialogue and humour. But rather than Storm’s narrators, Chris Merrick and Becca Chandler, Spark introduces readers to two new protagonists: a shy, brainy woman named Layne, and someone they already know: Gabriel Merrick.
It’s more dangerous than ever to be an Elemental, but Gabriel Merrick has a knack for playing with fire. It’s Gabriel who proves Spark's’s biggest surprise. An easy fan-favourite in Storm, despite his initially callous treatment of its protagonist, Gabriel is very different to the abrasive, cocky jock readers may think they already know. There is a lot more to Gabriel Merrick than meets the eye, and indeed more than he himself may recognise. The jock façade is hiding a raging inferno of pain, self-doubt and loneliness. In many ways, it’s these qualities that connect him with Layne, as well as building a difficult roadblock to what develops between them.
Layne, like Gabriel, hides a past of secrets and hurt, but while she is quiet and shy, she is certainly not meek. Layne has an inner-core of steel and a quiet strength, but she is not perfect—far from it. While she is selfless with those she loves, she is prone to defensiveness, slow to trust and cagey, but it only serves to render her more relateable and sympathetic.
In Storm, Brigid demonstrated an extraordinary talent for building a world and populating it with characters who felt real. From her pitch-perfect Merrick brothers, to the damaged but sweet Becca, there is an authenticity to her characters, and their stories, and it is no less present in Spark. Again, Brigid takes a cold hard look at bullying in its many forms, and at the helpless fury and hopelessness it creates in its victims. She examines pain, grief and isolation, but never in a melodramatic or overwrought fashion. Allowing actions to speak for themselves, Kemmerer presents a world with life how it is: beautiful and ugly, just and unfair, filled with terrible wrongs and rights. Gabriel and Layne are not perfect, nor are those they love, but they are human and eminently likable characters. Even at their darkest moments, they elicit undeniable empathy at the tip of Kemmerer’s pen. And that’s not even mentioning what else they elicit in their thrilling, sizzling-hot scenes together. The chemistry the couple share is electrifying, and readers looking for even more heat from a book filled with fires will be far from dissapointed.
As in Storm, at the heart of Spark are the Merrick brothers. But recent events have left raw nerves and short tempers, and we see a more combustible side to the family, as well as deepening bonds between the growing cast of secondary characters. Readers of Storm would have seen identical twins Nick and Gabriel as two halves of a whole, and there’s a palpable aching as a rift drives them apart in Spark.
While it would be easy for Kemmerer to have written a book purely focused on and driven by the paranormal, she never takes this path, and it’s one of her Elemental series’ greatest strengths: Brigid does not write about the supernatural, she writes about, people. Paranormal abilities do not serve to make her players more magnetic or romantic; rather, they are challenges. She does not romanticise great power, but examines its cost, its responsibilities. Indeed, the Elemental series reads less like teen-vampire dramas, and more like gritty contemporaries.
The Verdict:Readers who fell in love with Storm with be thrilled by this explosive sequel. Spark delivers on all fronts: action, a sizzling-hot romance, and yes, hot boys are all there, but there is more. Spark, like Storm, has heart. It has a human sensibility to its supernatural elements, and it is this, perfectly balanced with riveting story and flawless pacing that combine to make another compulsively readable offering from its talented author. Brigid Kemmerer delivers again: big time.
Books in This Series:
- Storm (May 2012)
- Spark (September 2012)
- Spirit (May 2013)