Excerpt from We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Mejia, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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We Set the Dark on Fire

by Tehlor Mejia

We Set the Dark on Fire by  Tehlor Mejia X
We Set the Dark on Fire by  Tehlor Mejia
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 384 pages
    Jan 2020, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Szczechowski
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The key to a Primera's strength is her restraint and immunity to scandal. She must not only behave like someone with nothing to hide—she must have nothing to hide.

—Medio School for Girls Handbook, 14th edition

DANIELA VARGAS WOKE AT THE first whisper of footsteps coming up the road.

By the time the sound of shattering glass in the courtyard alerted the campus to the presence of intruders, she was dressed and ready. For what? She wasn't sure. After a childhood of heavy-footed military police in close pursuit, she knew better than to mistake the luxury of her surroundings for safety.

She was only as safe as she was vigilant.

The shouting grew louder. There had been rumors of riots at the border for months, in the capital for weeks, but Dani hadn't thought they'd make it as far as the Medio School for Girls' gated sanctuary. The campus was private and insulated: white stone, lush greenery. A place where the country's brightest and most promising young women could train to become the wives Medio's future husbands deserved.

Dani had been here five years. Enough time to rise to the top of her class, to secure placement as Primera to the capital's most promising young politico. Graduation was only two days away, and then she would begin the life her parents had sacrificed family, home, and more to give her.

Assuming what was happening outside didn't get her arrested or killed first.

Another bottle shattered, closer this time, the smell of gasoline drifting in through the open window. Dani closed her eyes and muttered a half-forgotten prayer to the god in the air, to the goddess in the flames. Keep calm, she beseeched them.

No one around her would understand. Her parents' gods weren't in fashion this far inland—only the bearded visage of the Sun God, who ruled masculine ambitions and financial prosperity.

For a brief, unexpected moment, Dani wished her mama were here. It didn't take long to dismiss it as ridiculous. She was seventeen, a woman grown, two days from being a wife herself. Primeras didn't need comforting.

"Wake up!" came a voice from the courtyard. Drunk on booze or rebellion. Dangerous. "Can't you see this is all a lie? Can't you see people are dying? Can't you see?"

For the first time in her life, Dani awaited the arrival of the military police with something other than terror. She wanted them to come. To disperse the protest so she could go back to doing what they all did best—pretending Medio was prospering and peaceful. Pretending there was nothing but infertile ground and ocean beyond the looming border wall that kept their island nation divided in half.

Once they left, Dani could get back to pretending, too. That she belonged. That she wanted to be here as much as her parents wanted her to be.

Footsteps passed too close outside the window, and Dani ducked below the sill, leaning against the wall, listening to the pleading sounds of a home she didn't remember fleeing. Up and down the hall, the other fifth-year girls were likely still sleeping. Secure in the knowledge that they had no secrets to discover. Dani envied them.

The rioters didn't attempt to come inside. They screamed the names of family members they had lost in grief-soaked voices, chanting, pleading for the people hiding inside to wake up before it was too late.

Dani almost missed the snoring presence of her roommate, Jasmín, who had graduated the year before. With an odd number of Primera students, Dani was given the option of a single room for her final year, and with all she had at stake, she had leapt at the chance. But at least with Jasmín here, Dani would have had someone to pretend for. Some reason to quell the fear that curled in her stomach. She banished the thought. Jasmín was miles away now, in a mansion inside Medio's most exclusive gated community.

Excerpted from We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Mejia. Copyright © 2019 by Tehlor Mejia. Excerpted by permission of Katherine Tegan Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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