Book Title: Teach the Torches to Burn
Author: Caleb Roehrig
Release Date: August 22, 2023
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling, Queer
My rating: 5/5 Stars
In Teach the Torches to Burn, a breathlessly romantic remix of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and seventh book in the Remixed Classics series, a queer teen boy discovers first love amid a bloody, centuries-old feud.
Verona, Italy. Seventeen-year-old aspiring artist Romeo dreams of a quiet life with someone who loves him just as he is. But as the heir to the Montague family, he is expected to give up his womanly artistic pursuits and uphold the family honor–particularly in their centuries-old blood feud with a rival family, the Capulets. Worse still, he is also expected to marry a well-bred girl approved by his parents and produce heirs. But the more Romeo is forced to mingle with eligible maidens, the harder it is to keep his deepest secret: He only feels attracted to other boys.
In an attempt to forget his troubles for just one night, Romeo joins his cousin in sneaking into a Capulet party. During a fateful encounter in the garden, he meets the kindest, most beautiful boy he’s ever encountered, and is shocked to learn he’s Valentine, the younger brother of one of his closest friends. He is even more shocked to discover that Valentine is just as enamored with Romeo as Romeo is with him.
So begins a tender romance that the boys must hide from their families and friends, each of them longing for a world where they could be together without fear. And as the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets escalates out of control, Romeo and Valentine find themselves in danger of losing each other forever–if not by society’s scorn, then by the edge of a blade.
Teach the Torches to Burn is the seventh book in the Remixed Classics series which takes the classic tales we grew up with and adds exciting new ideas and diverse casts of characters. While I haven’t read every book in this series yet, I’ve immensely enjoyed all the ones I have read, and Teach the Torches to Burn was no different. This book was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and did a great job of including original source material while allowing it to completely stand on its own if it wanted to.
My absolute favorite part of this story was the writing style. I’ve read several historical reads or retellings that try to embody the style and voice of classic works while still keeping the language what we have today, but most of the time, it comes across as overly flowery. Not here, though! The way that Roehrig so expertly captured the feeling of fourteenth century Italy, while making the words modern and understandable, is a skill I have to applaud. It would have been easy to overdo the elaborate sentence structure he utilized, which would have fallen into purple prose category (which is not my favorite), but Roehrig managed to convey the perfect balance. This really heightened my enjoyment of the story! I felt so immersed in the setting, which allowed me to connect with the characters and plot even more than I think I would have had the writing style been more simple.
I also love that as a queer retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s love interest is Valentine, Mercutio’s younger brother. This meant that Juliet herself still got to appear in the story as she normally would have, just not as Romeo’s love interest. I’m obsessed with the fact that Juliet was portrayed as such a strong woman who’s also aroace. The representation was everything! The way she described her feelings for others and how she thinks she feels differently than most people do was just excellent. It would have been easy to just change Juliet’s gender and have her be the love interest still, but with the addition of Valentine, we were able to get some extra plot points and relationships that rounded out the story that much more.
Speaking of Valentine and Romeo…those two were everything. Their love for each other was soft and gentle, and all-consuming. Their chemistry was evident the moment they laid eyes on each other, and with everything going against them, it was impossible not to root for their happiness. I don’t usually like insta-love, but considering the original Romeo and Juliet story is just as guilty of this, it made sense to happen here. Also, they really were just too sweet, so I couldn’t be anything but attached to their relationship.
While the first half of the story is more of a slower build up to all that’s coming in the second half, the sense of foreboding hanging over the characters made the tension perfect. And once all of the action did pick up, I could no longer put the book down. I had to finish it because I needed to know how it was going to end. Knowing the outcome of the original story had me stressed! There was so much anxiety and uncertainty for the characters in the final part of the book, which kept me on the edge of my seat.
I was a little worried to reach the end, because regardless of whether it would be happy or sad, I wanted to be satisfied with it, and thankfully, I was! Roehrig wrapped it up almost perfectly, and I closed the book feeling like I’d just finished a great adventure.
If you haven’t read any of the Remixed Classics yet, you definitely need to! Teach the Torches to Burn is a good place to start, I feel, since Romeo and Juliet is such a well-known and beloved story. If you do read it, let me know what you think of it!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
Check out my last blog post: Like a Charm (ARC Review)