In my last post on Lana Fox’s new series for Go Deeper Press, Maddie Aflame!, I talked about how sexual fluidity and identity are woven into different aspects for the story. For that post, I focused on the characters, their sexual and gender identities, and their relationships to each other. This time around, I want to focus on the world those characters inhabit.
I’ve written before about how hostile and rigid Maddie’s society is. Right at the outset, the novel’s greatest threat is the systematic assimilation and eradication of LGBTQ citizens. Lana Fox’s dystopia draws deeply from gritty urban fantasies while maintaining a light in the darkness through its characters and their relationships. Yes, magic and tech are used against queer people, but they are also wielded by those same people in defense of themselves and those they love.
So, let’s start with tech. For all that spirituality plays a serious role in the story, technology is right there beside it, helping the protagonists navigate their hostile environment. The tech that appears in Maddie Aflame! is either put to destructive use by the government (think viruses, mind manipulation, and surveillance), or it’s used by the protagonists for protection and communication. This balanced portrayal of everything technology can be, from a literal lifesaver to a tool of oppression, forces the reader to take it on contextual terms, something Lana Fox also asks you to do with its characters.
In a world with sentient buildings and conditions like Combustion Syndrome, where science and spirituality are woven through life in equal measure, ghosts play an interesting role. Maddie’s mother’s ghost comes to her to warn her at various points. Another character hears ghosts and can talk to them. One of the protagonists chooses spiritual over corporeal form. Ghosts are afforded more rights and protections that living queer citizens, and all the while, they represent the societal no man’s land queer people inhabit in the physical world.
In fact, ghosts and spirits gorgeously highlight a number of things in Maddie Aflame!
The ghosts underscore the fluidity I talked about in the last post. Maddie and her friends blur the lines of traditional relationship structures, binary sexual orientations and gender identities. Likewise, the ghosts blur the lines between two static worlds—that of the living, and that of the dead. Their active presence in the story sends the subtle message that not only are the lines of existence blurrier than laws and customs admit, but that bodies (with all of their markers and expectations) are temporary – the soul that occupies the body is what lives on in the world.
And then there’s the sentient mansion. While I don’t want to give too much away, it’s a metaphorical masterstroke that deserves a mention. The mansion, which, for all intents and purposes should be just a normal house, is a feeling, sensing thing, more creature than building, cognitively speaking, as it responds to the emotional state of its occupants. Like magic, tech and ghosts, the mansion bridges a gap and blurs the line between expectation and form to defy its own weaponization, making it not only a compelling character in its own right, but a powerful metaphor for the breaking of traditional worldviews in favor of wider possibility.
In the end, that is one of the most universal messages in the series—that your physical self is not, in reality, a boundary against inhabiting your full self and loving people in the way that is right for every individual relationship. The supernatural elements in Maddie Aflame!, are fabulous allusions that works on every level, particularly because they are woven into the fabric of the world with so much care. The society Maddie lives in is draconian in its adherence to tradition. It makes absolute sense that shadows of an alternate way should defy control and drift around its streets.
Stay tuned next week for my final installment of this short series on Lana Fox’s Maddie Aflame! And stay even more tuned for the first book in the series, coming very, VERY soon from Go Deeper Press!
Other posts in the Maddie Aflame! series: