For a Muse of Fire

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
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Captivating alternate-Asia fantasy has magic, suspense.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

For a Muse of Fire is set in an alternate version of Asia, circa 1870. and might inspire a discussion of France's role in Cambodia, Vietnam. and Laos. It also features a character of color dealing with bipolar disorder.

Positive Messages

Colonialism leads to injustice. Even in the darkest times, families can support each other and find physical and emotional safety. People can learn to cope with mental illness.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As she struggles to protect her homeless family, Jetta bravely faces the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. She experiences the exhilaration that comes with mania but also occasionally falls into deep depressions. Nevertheless, she is resourceful, empathetic and capable, if desperate to find a cure for her condition.


Scenes of violence are infrequent and generally understated. Soldiers burn down a cabaret. Jetta uses her magical powers to kill an enemy. A battle results in a showdown with knives and guns.


Jetta and Leo are attracted to each other almost from the start, but they don't act upon their feelings until late in the book. They share a passionate embrace that doesn't go very far.


For a Muse of Fire contains a small amount of swearing, one or two uses of "damn," "bastard,"and "hell." The French speakers use "merde" once or twice.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few scenes are set in a theater/cabaret where rum is served. The teen characters do not seem to partake.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that For a Muse of Fire is a fantasy novel by Heidi Heilig (The Ship Beyond Time). Set in 1874, in an alternate version of South Asia, the novel follows Jetta Chantray as she tries to find safety for her mother and father in the midst of revolution. The armed rebellion in the book results in scenes of violence, but it's limited to a few short scenes (a building burned down, an enemy killed by magic) and a battle that results in a showdown with knives and guns. Swearing is infrequent ("damn," "bastard," "hell"), and the sexual content almost nonexistent except for one passionate embrace.

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What's the story?

At the start of FOR A MUSE OF FIRE, Jetta Chantray has magical powers that allow her shadow puppets to move without the assistance of sticks and string. Instead, they are animated by the souls of the recently departed. Jetta suffers from a malady that modern science would call bipolar disorder, and she hopes to find a cure in Aquitan. To travel there requires plenty of cash, and it's dangerous for anyone to know that she practices magic. Luckily, she earns the friendship of Leo, a young smuggler with connections in high places. In the midst of an armed rebellion, they plot a dangerous escape attempt for Jetta's family.

Is it any good?

Fantasy novels benefit from unique settings and situations, and this start of a new series has a concept that is fresh and captivating. In For a Muse of Fire, author Heidi Heilig concocts a setting reminiscent of South Asia that is rich with ancient magic. Her diverse cast of characters harbors more than their share of secrets, but Jetta stands out as an especially complicated protagonist.

According to her afterword, Heilig has her own struggles with bipolar disorder, and that knowledge lends believability to the fantastic plot. Only the first book in a trilogy, For a Muse of Fire takes its time setting in motion the mechanics of the plot, but it eventually reaches a high level of suspense. The cliffhanger ending is sure to reel readers in for another helping.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how For a Muse of Fire depicts a society on the brink of revolution. What kinds of injustice does colonization promote? 

  • Jetta has a mental illness. How does she cope with her symptoms? What support do people with mental illnesses need? How are they depicted in the media?

  • Should people keep their talents secret from others? When might that strategy be productive?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and stories of mental illness

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