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Book Review: When Fire Splits the Sky by Tyler James Russell

When Fire Splits the Sky by Tyler James Russell

Following Ben’s weekend hunting trip outside Juneau, his wife Maranda-a trauma survivor with multiple personalities-makes a discovery that looks like it will finally put their limping, less-than-a-year marriage out of its misery. But in the morning, when a cataclysmic blast throws the world into chaos, Ben and Maranda find themselves stuck in a car, heading north to Anchorage, on a seemingly hopeless quest to reunite with a missing family member before it’s too late.

Driving for days through the fiery devastation, Ben and Maranda’s marital and personal trauma plays out against what might be a global-or even cosmic-catastrophe. All the while, they are pursued by two men with dark ties to Maranda’s past. To reach Anchorage, Ben and Maranda will be forced to confront their blackest secrets as they decide what any relationship might be worth at the end of the world.

Told in alternating chapters from Ben and Maranda’s perspectives, When Fire Splits the Sky is an apocalyptic, psychological, road-trip thriller about the limits of our capacity to endure, change, and survive.

When Fire Splits the Sky Review

I was compensated with a small amount for my time and effort in reading the book and writing this review. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and are based on my honest personal experience reading the book. Nor did the publisher in any way shape or form ever pressure me to give a positive review.

When Fire Splits the Sky explores the turbulent marriage of Ben and Maranda, which is already strained due to Maranda’s trauma and numerous personalities. A catastrophic blast rocks their world after Maranda finds out about Ben’s infidelity, sending them on a disorganized trip toward Anchorage. Following people from Maranda’s past, the pair must negotiate a burning wasteland while facing their darkest secrets and debating the importance of their relationship in the face of the end of the world. The story deftly interweaves psychological drama, post-apocalyptic suspense, and the intricacies of human endurance and survival while switching back and forth between Ben and Maranda’s points of view.

This book deviates significantly from what I usually read, not because of its thriller, apocalyptic, or psychological themes, but rather because of the protagonists Ben and Maranda themselves. The story has a romantic undertone because of their relationship as a couple. As an avid romance reader who usually avoids infidelity in books like the plague, because of Ben and Miranda’s complicated issues, especially when adultery is involved, it made the reading experience very unique…for me. Still, I saw being sent an ARC as an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and explore a new quirk in literature that I have yet to be exposed to.

To my astonishment, delving into the taboo and often inexcusable issue of cheating in relationships turned out to be a far more gripping experience than I had initially anticipated. It wasn’t a sudden increase in tolerance for such matters, but rather, the adept handling of these controversial themes that truly captivated me. Dare I say, it was precisely these taboo, almost inexcusable relationship issues that made the story truly compelling.

This unexpected revelation caught me pleasantly off guard. I found myself marveling at how effectively the issue I typically avoid like the plague was utilized to enhance both the entertainment value and the depth of character development within the narrative. Credit is undeniably due to the author’s remarkable navigation and realistic utilization of such issues as plot devices and points of relationship and character growth. It’s a testament to their skill that these contentious topics positively contributed to my overall enjoyment while reading the book.

All that being said though, I want to make one thing very clear. I wouldn’t exactly say I hate Ben, but if I see him getting hit by a car I wouldn’t call an ambulance. His repeated cheating as the book progressed really got on my nerves and eroded any sympathy I had towards him every time he did it. Now I can’t stop reading because the story was interesting so I wanted to finish to see what happens, but for the love of god, nobody should be defending a man cheating on his wife with a mental illness.

I also have to applaud the author for skillfully capturing the dangerous and ominous atmosphere of the post-apocalyptic world that the story portrays. According to my reading experience, apocalyptic books typically fall into two categories: those that successfully create a genuinely catastrophic atmosphere, and those that fail to inspire a sense of actual fear and instead employ the apocalyptic setting as cosmetic decoration. The latter is distinguished by more than just a plethora of unsettling and distressing material woven into the plot, such as human trafficking or sexual abuse. Rather, it’s the blending of several different subjects that all work together to create a universe that is both immersive and suspenseful.

The author’s ability to create a world that is actually menacing and foreboding by skillfully fusing together disparate aspects of society breakdown, environmental destruction, and human despair is immensely satisfying to read. It’s not only that chaos and sorrow are there – it’s also the subtle examination of how these elements interact and intensify one another, making the protagonists feel more in danger and pressed for time. The author is successful in creating a world that feels really post-apocalyptic, where every meeting and challenge faced by the heroes is charged with tangible suspense and peril, thanks to this deliberate stacking of thematic themes

My final thoughts on When Fire Splits the Sky is that it’s an engrossing and provocative examination of love, survival, and the ability of people to persevere in the face of unfathomable tragedy. Tyler James Russell creates a story that is both terrifying and incredibly captivating by deftly navigating the complexity of relationships and the collapse of society.

The author sensitively and deeply explores forbidden issues through the compelling characters of Ben and Maranda, while simultaneously providing a terrifyingly realistic depiction of a post-apocalyptic world on the verge of collapse. With its richly developed setting and nuanced exploration of themes, this novel proves to be a captivating read that lingers in the mind long after the final page is turned. For readers seeking a thrilling blend of psychological drama, romance, and apocalyptic suspense, When Fire Splits the Sky offers a truly unforgettable journey.

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About the Author of When Fire Splits the Sky

Tyler James Russell is the author of When Fire Splits the Sky (2022), a novel, and To Drown a Man (2020), a poetry collection, both from Unsolicited Press. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Cat, and their children. His work has been nominated for the Rhysling and Best of the Net, and has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, F(r)iction, the NonBinary Review, and The Sepia, among others. You can find him at

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