The Creative Fire: Book One of Ruby’s Song By Brenda Cooper
Ruby grew up gray. She will service the ship. Without the grays, nothing would happen. There would be no clean water. There would be no fruit. Without the grays, the Creative Fire, the great generational ship, will never find home.
They’ve been gone for hundreds of years. No one remembers what the stars look like. None of them know what a bird looks like. They all long for home.
And one more thing: They long for freedom.
The reds control the grays. They beat them. They rape them. Whatever the reds want, they take. Sure, there are a few kind reds, but they are the exception to the rules. And Ruby’s heard rumors that there is another color. There are people who are allowed to wear blue, people who command even the red.
Ruby has one talent: She can sing. And when she sings of freedom, she may spark a rebellion. But any rebellion that happens in a spaceship must be very careful; damage the ship, and they all die.
The more Ruby sings, the more attention she gets. But will that attention lead to freedom… or everyone’s death?
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If you loved the idea of Mockingjay but thought that Suzanne Collins didn’t quite pull it off… this is the book for you. Ruby presents as a strong female protagonist, drawn realistically as a late-teens young woman with many foibles but still likable for it. She becomes the figurehead for a rebellion she refuses to simply be a figurehead for. The stakes are so much higher for Ruby than for Katniss, though. If the rebellion goes wrong for Ruby, it’s possible they might all die. In fact, if the rebellion goes right they might all die!
Cooper dives right into the story; I remember reading the first chapter thinking, “Holy cow! Forget establishing what life was like; we’re just going to dive right into changing everything!” While we do receive plenty to understand the stakes, Cooper doesn’t waste time in long chapters explaining how things are supposed to go. Buckle in; you’re in for a wild ride. I appreciated the pace of the plot.
One thing that clunked for me a bit: Cooper gives us two point-of-view protagonists. Ruby has a solid characterization that never wavers throughout. She also gives us Onor, a young man who pines for Ruby. He’s sort of the Peeta of the thing, except with a less clearly defined personality. I get why; Cooper keeps repeating the thought that Onor does what he does because of his love for Ruby, and without her he’s something of a shadow. I know people like that. It was frustrating to read, though, when we got inside his head. I wanted a stronger character for all that. Onor does develop into more of an independent character about halfway through the book, and I appreciated his growth, but I wish he would have been more distinct from page one.
I did enjoy Cooper’s setting immensely. She thought out how a multi-generational ship would function. I enjoyed that her rebels were smart; we didn’t have the typical over-reaction that often comes with stories of rebellion. She also reasons out how the different castes could be kept apart.
Her writing style also welcomes smart reading. Cooper doesn’t spell everything out for the reader; she simply tells what each character does and allows us to “see” everything. What we think of what we see is up to us.
Unlike many first volumes, this one could stand alone. I’m eager to see what happens next, but she leaves us not on a cliffhanger, but with real closure. For all that, I’m eager to find out what Ruby does next.
If you enjoy stories of rebels fighting hopeless battles, strong female protagonists, and a great dystopian setting, check this out. It is well worth your time!