I’d only previously read Sarah Beth Durst’s QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, so I was excited to have the chance to read Fire & Heist (2018), her latest YA novel. I never know whether an author whose adult work is enjoyable will write well for a young adult audience — or vice versa — but I’m pleased to be able to report that Durst is clearly adept at writing for any age group, and particularly so for nerdy readers.
Sky Hawkins is the kind of leading character many readers would love to hate. She comes from a family who “owned at one time a fleet of Aston Martins and [gave] the gardener his own Tesla,” and readily acknowledges that she might seem like just another “poor little rich girl” in Aspen, Colorado who deserves “the world’s smallest violin” for bellyaching that her family’s vast fortune and elevated social standing have been suddenly, greatly diminished in the past few weeks. But it’s not just material wealth that’s been carved away; Sky’s mother went missing just before the Hawkins family became pariahs to everyone else in their rarefied circles, and Sky is convinced that if she can prove how the two events are connected, she might be able to return their fortune and her beloved mother in the process.
What makes Sky special is that she’s a wyvern, or were-dragon, although her draconic tendencies only extend to a deep and abiding love for shiny treasure and a fire-breathing ability that really needs some work in order to be impressive. (Wyverns once had the ability to shapeshift into actual dragons, but it’s been lost over time.) She and the rest of her family come from a long line of wyverns throughout history, including Sir Francis Drake and King Atahualpa, and they’re not alone — many of her high school classmates are wyverns, and the activities of the global wyvern community are closely followed by paparazzi and newscasters alike. A major rite of passage for wyverns is to lead their first heist, often by raiding another wyvern’s hoard, and successfully retrieve a few items to begin their own cache. Sky believes that the best way to distinguish herself from the antics of her three larger-than-life older brothers is to take on a heist so covert and daring that it could either ruin her family completely or restore everything they’ve lost. But that’s only half the challenge, as she soon discovers.
Fire & Heist contains not one but two really well-plotted and -executed heists, and I appreciated Durst’s work in making sure all of the elements came together properly, from assembling the requisite crews to choosing a heist target to actually putting the plans into action. There are nifty gadgets alongside spiffy spellwork, and as much fun as it was to see Sky plot out her first heist, it’s what she learns afterward and how she forms and implements the second heist that pushed the novel into high gear, particularly in terms of character development.
Assisting Sky is her ex-boyfriend and fellow wyvern Ryan, who was the first to turn his back on Sky at the wyvern council’s Reckoning after her mother disappeared; Ryan claims he had very good reasons for doing so, and turns out to be surprisingly (suspiciously?) useful in setting up technical aspects of the first heist. Also on board are her classmate Gabriela, a human with a deep and abiding love and knowledge of all things fantastical, especially unicorns; and Maximus, a jewelry-store owner and wyvern wizard who can get the crew past various magical traps and barriers. Ryan and Gabriela are key not only to the heist’s success, but also to Sky’s emotional growth, as she’s initially a wee bit self-centered and short-sighted, and prone to using people in order to achieve her goals rather than asking for their assistance in a straightforward manner.
In addition, there are some delightful fantasy and science fiction references sprinkled throughout Fire & Heist. I’m not sure if the target audience will recognize the nods and outright callbacks to Spaceballs or Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN series, but I certainly did, and there were more than a few times that I outright laughed as a result. Sky’s brothers and father were appropriately annoying in that way that only close-knit family members can be, especially when their efforts to protect her from learning about or sharing about her mother’s mysterious fate get in the way of her heist preparations. It all comes from good intentions, however, and Durst wraps up Fire & Heist in a supremely satisfying and heartwarming way.
Fun and surprising from the first page to the last, Fire & Heist was a true delight to read. Durst has become one of my favorite authors, one who I’ll gladly follow into whatever subject, genre, or age range she chooses to approach. Highly recommended.