Colleen Mondor Reviews From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos
From Dust, A Flame, Rebecca Podos (Balzer + Bray 978-0-06-269906-0, $17.39, hc, 416pp) February 2022.
Hannah Williams enjoys a largely manageable life with her widowed mother and wicked cool older brother, Gabe, finding new homes from city to city in a variety of houses, cabins, apartments, and cottages. They move for no reason other than their mother’s restless spirit but have always landed on their feet and settle in well enough. The family’s current digs are more permanent, however, since Hannah won a scholarship to a prestigious private high school. Going into her senior year she’s determined to get everything in line for scholarships to an Ivy League college where she can pursue a sedate and predictable management career. Then she wakes up the day after her seventeenth birthday with ‘‘impossible golden eyes,’’ and all of her mother’s secrets fall to pieces, a curse is revealed, and their world blows up.
From Dust, A Flame is an exciting story about uncovering the past and parsing truth from fiction in old stories and legends. As their mother leaves, ‘‘for a few days’’ to get help, Hannah and Gabe settle in to monitor her daily transformations, which ultimately include everything from horns to a dorsal fin, scales, and a tail. Each night Hannah goes to bed with one terrible thing and wakes up to find it replaced with another. She has lost complete control of her body, has no hope for her future, and then her mother vanishes. What the siblings are going to do next is anyone’s guess when they unexpectedly receive a death notice in the mail for the elderly maternal grandmother they never knew. With no other options, they set out for upstate New York and an extended family who might provide answers. What they find is more questions, an amazing history steeped in Jewish culture, and a monster in the nearby river. They also find their mother, who has taken a great risk to save Hannah, but failed and now, just like her daughter, is desperately in need of rescue.
Author Rebecca Podos does an excellent job in this novel of weaving history and legend into a thoroughly modern family drama. There are so many secrets, across generations, and a lot of anger from those still alive who don’t know what really happened in the past. As Hannah and Gabe follow clues and get some much needed help in finding out why their mother left home as a teenager and, more importantly, never returned, Hannah’s situation becomes more dire. When they finally come up with a plan to take on the monster, break the curse, and rescue their mother, it is all hands on deck to get the job done. In those final chapters the book sees its only true stumble, when Hannah and her mother are reunited and, in the midst of an incredibly perilous moment, decide to stop and argue about her decisions decades before. (The bad thing is going to kill you. It’s going to kill everyone. Could we please work all this out when we are safe?) Readers will likely roll their eyes over these pages, but overall From Dust, A Flame is a good standalone novel that provides some fascinating insight into Jewish legend, (Gabe’s friendship with the Golem he accidentally awakens is particularly outstanding). It’s a hard-to-put-down thriller and easy to recommend.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the April 2022 issue of Locus.
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