Book Review: It Ends in Fire

Review by Christopher G. Nuttall

It Ends in Fire

-Andrew Shvarts

The more we journey into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the more we come to realise that it is a deeply warped and twisted society, governed by people who carry the scars – and bad habits – from their experience at Hogwarts into adulthood. The simple fact is that Hogwarts shapes children who never, thanks to the reclusive nature of wizarding society, have a chance to grow beyond the roles assigned to them at school and continue to play out the riviales of their childhood even though they should leave them firmly in the past.   In a sense, the entire Wizarding World has Boarding School Syndrome. This would be quite bad enough, but what makes it worse is the – at best – dismissive attitudes to non-magical humans – Muggles.   The wizards meet so few muggles in their daily lives that they have very little understanding of their realities, or how technology can be far superior to magic. There is probably room for a very good fan fiction following open contact and conflict between the two societies.

It Ends in Fire takes the concept of wizarding rulers as far as it will go.

In another world, a nation is dominated by wizards.   Non-wizards – Humbles – are de facto slaves, mistreated, raped and slaughtered at will by their wizardly superiors. Worse, the wizards insist this is their godly right and demand complete and total submission from their subordinates, to the point Humbles must thank wizards for their mistreatment.   There is a resistance movement, but it hasn’t been able to make any headway … until now. Through chance and careful planning, Alka – who as a child witnessed her parents being brutally murdered by wizards – has replaced a wizard from a distant province and gone undercover at the most prestigious school of magic in the world, Blackwater Academy. Her mission is to discover the enemy’s secrets and find a way to turn them against them.

It doesn’t go quite as planned. Alka – sorted into a Hufflepuff House expy – finds herself challenged to win The Great Game, taking her house to victory in – as it slowly becomes clear – an attempt to discredit the headmaster (Evil Dumbledore) and reshape the balance of power. She is forced to make friends and learn how to become a leader, as well as bending the rules as far as they will go to make loopholes. And at the end, she must risk everything to win or lose everything.

Andrew Shvarts does an excellent job of crafting Alka as a character, as well as the handful of people around her. The flashbacks to her early life show how she grew into the person who sneaked into the academy and learned to fight, although in some ways I feel the flashbacks were overdone. She also makes mistakes, mostly realistic ones, and allows her entirely understandable hatreds to come close to destroying her from time to time. She does, I feel, grow a little too close to her peers at times, none of whom know who she really is, but this does help give the society some much-needed depth. From the outsides, the wizards look like a monolith; on the inside, it’s clear they have factions that can be turned against each other to rip their world apart.

He also does a good job at showing how their society warps and twists people into monsters, from the snooty jock who has a powerful figure looking out for him and smoothing his way – allowing him to get away with everything – to the cringing Humbles or the ones prepared to throw their lives away for a slight chance for revenge. He shows how such a world can degrade the servant class, rendering them incapable of fighting back, as well as their so-called superiors. And how it can break people to discover the rules are effectively being rewritten on the fly to help the bad guy.

This ties in, in a way, to the bitterness that pervaded aspects of the Harry Potter fandom when it became clear Dumbledore was, at best, a very dodgy character and gave rise to countless Manipulative or Evil Dumbledore stories (including a number where Dumbledore is a worse threat than Voldemort). It is clear that Dumbledore is responsible for a lot of the Wizarding World’s problems, and his counterpart in this book is far – far – worse. In some ways, he is a great deal less subtle than others, but – again – one of the side results of having absolute power for so long is to react badly to the slightest hint of challenge. And in the end everything comes crashing down with him.

The author himself describes the book as ‘magic, murder, and Queer Teens Burning Down Evil Hogwarts.’   I heard a couple of negative mentions of this book because of it, but the very limited sexual activity doesn’t detract from the plot. Our heroine is bisexual; she sleeps with one guy at the school, she refers to an earlier relationship that was more for comfort than anything else and, at the end, she seems to be heading into a relationship with another girl. The details are not very explicit and don’t really cross the line.

That said, there are a handful of weaker parts to the story.   The heroine doesn’t know anything like as much as she should, about the role she’s supposed to play, and she nearly gets tripped up a few times. She also has a temper which comes very close to getting her killed, and perhaps she would have lost everything if she didn’t have some covert support from others higher up the hierarchy. The ending isn’t quite foreshadowed as much as I might like, although most of it works fairly well. And the book does come across, in places, as a darker retelling of Goblet of Fire.

Overall, though, It End In Fire joins a number of other well-respected books that address issues with Harry Potter, as well as being a good read in its own right.

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