We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the action-packed sequel to We Set the Dark on Fire. While We Set the Dark on Fire made us fall in love with Carmen and Dani and set the stage for life in the dystopian world of Medio, this book really ramped up the drama and gave us the privilege of viewing the world through Carmen’s eyes. Medio’s government is steeped in corruption and is focused on demonizing and shutting out the lower class with stringent measures, including a border wall. The societal system inside the border is oppressively misogynistic where girls go to school to become reduced one of two types of perfect wives–segundas (“beauty”) or primeras (“brains”).
After the heartbreaking cliffhanger ending to We Set the Dark on Fire, we now follow Carmen as she struggles with her identity and place as a member of La Voz, a political resistance group, as the resistance experiences worrying changes in ideology. For much of the book, Carmen exists as an enemy of both the government and the only true family she’s ever known, La Voz.
We Unleash the Merciless Storm Review
When I first read We Set the Dark on Fire, I was immediately hooked on these books. The first novel really does a great job of introducing the readers to the eff-ed up world of Medio the characters in all of their complexity. Towards the end, the action starts to really get going, but I won’t say much more because as I write this, I’m realizing that I should probably also make a post for We Set the Dark on Fire too.
Cut to We Unleash the Merciless Storm. I absolutely adore Carmen as a character. She is complex, fiery, and fiercely loyal. It’s refreshing to see a female character who isn’t solely driven by her love life, though her love for Dani is an extremely important part of her story and identity. At the end of the day though, she is at least as equally devoted to the good of her people– those who reside outside the wall.
The story is painfully timely, with strong class themes that parallel the immigration issues the U.S. is currently facing. A particularly poignant example is that the poverty-stricken people outside the wall are generalized as unsavory criminals for the crime of being born outside of the border.
The whole novel is fully immersed in Latin culture further reinforcing the themes of the present day tensions between the United States government and the people of Mexico. I personally love reading books that involve cultures different than my own, and this was no exception. My only issue was the minimal food references in this book. Like, I understand that Carmen had her hands full trying to overthrow a corrupt government while also dealing with a rift in La Voz and saving the love of her life’s life, but I’m of the opinion that any book is made better when it incorporates scenes featuring food.
That being said, there is a frequent reference to an alcoholic fermented pineapple drink, especially among people outside the border and La Voz. With that in mind and keeping with the Latin culture of the duology, I decided to pair this novel with pineapple empanadas.
Pineapple Empanadas Recipe
A few notes on this recipe: I would not use more than one tablespoon of filing for each empanada or you’ll run the risk of overstuffing. Also, in my experience, this recipe yields more dough than needed, so don’t be afraid to vary your dough circles sizes to find out what works best through trial and error. Finally, be prepared for your kitchen to smell absolutely AMAZING when making the filling!
Making the empanadas themselves can be very time consuming, but also pretty fun! Also, don’t forget the egg wash + cinnamon sugar step right before you pop them in the oven.
The finished product! This recipe yields quite a few empanadas, so get ready to share with your friends and family. 🙂
- 1½ cups water
- 1 piece star of anise *I omitted this.
- 1 1-2 inch cinnamon stick
- 3½ cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup white sugar
- 1½ tsps baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 fresh pineapple
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp water
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Add anise and cinnamon stick to a small pot with the water and bring to a boil.
- After boiling for about three minutes, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Heat shortening in the microwave until just starting to melt (15 seconds at a time). Mix in shortening with the dry ingredients and fully combine.
- Strain the cinnamon and anise from the pot of water. Mix ½ cup of the spice water into the dry ingredients.
- Continue mixing until a lumpy dough forms. Add a bit more water until the dough is firm and slightly sticky.
- Cover the dough loosely and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Chop a fresh pineapple into small pieces.
- Add pineapple, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla to a sock pot and bring to the boil while stirring occasionally.
- Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and continue to cook while occasionally stirring for 15 minutes. If needed, break up larger pieces of pineapple.
- Combine water and cornstarch in a small cup. Add to the pineapple mixture.
- Continue to cook until the filling starts to take shape and thicken.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Prepare your dough working station by generously sprinkling with flour.
- Form the dough into 24-28 golf ball-sized balls.
- Flatten the balls into circles roughly four inches in diameter using a rolling pin or your lower palm.
- Add 1-1½ tablespoons of the filling to the center of each circle.
- Fold over the edges of the bowl and seal the edges with your fingertips or a fork.
- Place the empanadas on a lined baking sheet and brush egg wash onto each one.
- Sprinkle about half of the cinnamon sugar topping over the empanadas.
- Bake until golden brown, typically about 20 minutes.
- While still warm, sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the empanadas and enjoy!