a review by Evie Kendal
Amber Kizer’s Meridian series is a young adult fantasy following the life of Meridian Sozu, a sixteen-year-old girl with the ability to help dying souls crossover into the afterlife. Known as “Fenestras” girls like Meridian are half-human, half-angel beings that fight to save souls from the evil soul-stealing Aternocti. While the series delicately skirts around the issue of religious affiliation, the Aternocti represent a disruption to the balance between good and evil, often killing Fenestras before they come into their power in order to limit the number of “windows” available for dying souls to travel through. In the first novel of the series, Meridian, Meridian discovers her heritage and is sent to train with “Auntie,” an older relative who is also a Fenestra. Her family go into hiding when the Aternocti threaten them and Meridian ends up living in a small town, completely isolated from her former friends and family, with only Auntie and her taciturn companion, Tens, as company. Throughout this first novel Meridian learns how to use her power and also discovers that Tens is her destined Protector. The second novel, Wildcat Fireflies, follows Meridian and Tens’ journey to seek out other Fenestras, before the Aternocti can find them. Armed with nothing but an old diary full of entries written by Fenestras over the ages, the two protagonists must figure out more about Meridian’s powers and how they bind her and Tens together.
After reading Meridian, the second instalment of this series definitely receives a nomination for “most improved” plotting. While the first book meandered somewhat and then pulled an infuriating deux ex machina finale, Wildcat Fireflies has a relatively good narrative pace, and the ending is set up a bit better. Given the fact the series is supposed to focus on powerful women though, the prevalence of damsel-in-distress moments is a bit distressing. Overall the plot of Wildcat Fireflies is more interesting than Meridian, particularly due to the introduction of first person narration from the perspective of Juliet, the orphaned Fenestra Meridian and Tens are racing to save. Despite some lengthy and rather self-indulgent descriptive tangents, this added tension generally succeeds in keeping the story moving. Unfortunately there is also a romantic plot threading through the book that never quite manages to avoid the inherent creepiness of exploring a relationship between a sixteen-year-old girl and her much more mature brother-like companion. There is quite a lot of text devoted to exploring their sexual desires, but much of this fails to advance the plot and comes off as unnecessary filler. I think a “less-is-more” approach to this aspect of the story would have been more appropriate.
Although many fans disagree, I found the character of Juliet very interesting and was more invested in her storyline than Meridian and Tens’. Living in an orphanage/nursing home, Juliet tries to protect the other orphans from their overbearing Mistress, while also easing the suffering of the elderly patients dying within the Dunklebarger facility. Unaware of why she is so drawn to the dying, Juliet strives to make life better for everyone at Dunklebarger, oblivious to the Aternocti threat surrounding her.
It is perhaps a testament to how flat I found the characterisation of Meridian and Tens that my next favourite characters in the book were the cat, Mini, and dog, Custos! While Juliet uses Mini’s ability to seek out the dying, Custos is an often-invisible wolf sent by the powers that be to assist Meridian and Tens in their mission. Both are significantly more interesting than many of the human characters in the series. The scenes involving Auntie are among the best, due to the depth of characterisation already achieved for her in Meridian.
Wildcat Fireflies does a good job of catching readers up with the events of the previous novel, and since the ending of Meridian was appalling, I would recommend starting with this second novel. However, while the first novel is pitched at young teens, the second is more suitable for older teens. The writing style is quite simple though and possibly won’t provide a sufficient challenge for more advanced readers.