GIRL ON FIRE
By Gemma Amor
Available October 2020
People. Are. Trash.
I remember reading the original short story (of the same title) in Cruel Works of Nature and thinking, I would love to see this girl’s descent into madness. Well, we certainly get that in some form here, though not so much as a “descent,” per se; I’d call it a full-on meltdown, more like.
You see, Ruby Miller has a nasty past with her father, which is told here for the first time in the prologue. You then get the original short story, followed by about a hundred and ten pages of brand new content. Over the course of this novella, you receive several points of view as Ruby goes about killing hundreds of people by setting fire to diners, towns, and forests. She’s pissed off and a switch in her brain has been flicked by her new powers – she’s basically become a sociopath, and a violent one at that.
The switching of characters works nicely, though I felt like a character got lost in the midst of it all. You have one section in which someone – I’ll keep this vague – has brought in Ruby’s mother to talk with her about the horrors her daughter has committed. It is at this point that we learn a lot of connections to Gemma’s other stories, which is great! However, after that scene – which ends ominously for the mother – we never get Mrs. Miller again. You’re left to expect more with her, but it never comes. So what happened to her? I have a guess, if the facility is the same as the one later in the novella, but I won’t voice it here. The point is, I don’t remember ever reading any conclusion for Ruby’s mom. Did I just miss it somehow?
Otherwise, the character switches do a good job in moving along the story, without forcing us to directly follow Ruby from massacre to the next. In all, you have Helen twice, Ruby twice, Cat once, and Randall once. Randall’s was probably my favorite, because Gemma gives him a bit of background that I want explored further (maybe in the sequel?).
My main issue with this story was how little I liked Ruby. Even though I enjoyed her in the original short, I found the rest of her story a bit needling. I can’t feel sympathy toward a character that is out there burning down homes with mothers and children in them. I don’t care what happened to her in life – it’s not an excuse for terrorizing the innocent. Some readers may disagree with me here – let’s not start an argument, please – but this all made me dislike Ruby. I had hoped for a story in which we follow Ruby trying to be left alone and figure out her life; in other words, a story in which she wasn’t an obvious villain. Sure, she’d have to kill people along the way that won’t let her be, but that wouldn’t make her a monster. Unfortunately, she is made a villain here – a monster that I really wanted put down. Maybe this is partly because I’m used to Gemma writing characters I care about; sadly, Ruby isn’t one of them.
My complaints aside, this novella packs a punch, as to be expected. There are some excellent confrontations in here – the diner scene with Cat is intense, as is the final sequence involving Randall – in addition to a lot of Easter eggs for avid Gemma fans to find. I loved that! And if you like stories about revenge, then you’ll certainly get that here. Girl on Fire is a destructive expansion of the short, and one that has been left open for sequels to come. Eat your heart out!
Highlights: Fast-paced … catastrophic … connects many of Gemma’s stories together in the same universe … promises a sequel
Shadows: Very little character development … hard to sympathize with a mass murderer, despite the terrors of their past
For fans of: Sci-fi horror … suspenseful horror … action and destruction … stories about strong women … stories about revenge … stories with mass casualties
Takeaway: Though this is a simpler side to Gemma Amor, Girl on Fire spits fire left and right, torching the scene and taking out everyone in its way. There’s a lot of explosive action – pun intended – and, probably best of all, it expands upon the universe we’ve been exploring with Gemma these last couple years.
Would I read this author again? Yes