YA Fantasy

My Review: Incendiary (Hallow Crown #1): by Zoraida Córdova

Publish Date: April 28th, 2020

Number of Pages: 450 Pages

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Genre(s): YA Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

They tell me my power is a curse, but they keep presenting me as a gift.”

– Zoraida Córdova, “Incendiary”

While it’s nothing quite really too original or innovative within the YA Fantasy genre, Incendiary was still quite a captivating read that was inspired by Spanish Inquisition era Spain. With its historical influence, this book was incredibly well written and is a great story for anyone to add to their shelves if they like an entertaining book filled with adventure, courtly intrigue, rebels with magical abilities and a cause, betrayal, ambition, love, and war.

For me, Incendiary has been tossed around as one of the most anticipated releases for the YA Fantasy genre of 2020, and I was just so lucky to be able to get my own exclusive signed copy from Owlcrate, a top tier YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy box subscription. It was the mystery book revealed for their May 2020 box theme: “Rebels with a Cause,” and you can see their exclusive cover design in the image below:

I for one am a big fan of this design, and may even like this version better than the two other designs. Owlcrate’s edition is playing off the Disney-Hyperion cover design at the top of the post, but one thing I don’t like for that one is how cartoony the girl looks floating above the title. I think she would’ve looked better if they kept her more realistic and similar to Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight cover model with a similar aesthetic.

I will be honest, reading through this book was easy for the beginning and end, but the middle really slowed down for me. The initial set up was so exciting and thrilling, and it was the same with the ending but with an elevation of it all because you’re familiar with the characters by then and are (hopefully) invested into the story, but man oh man was the middle kind of a drag… just not as much happens in terms of excitement, swordplay, epic battles, or even romance. It’s more about courtly intrigue and attempting to find out secrets, but none of it was incredibly memorable for me. None of the big reveals were all that shocking or mind-blowing, and I’d say even a huge occurence in the story becomes downplayed as a “shocking” reveal turns out to make it not actually true.

One could also argue that the story was filled with many stereotypical tropes of YA Fantasy, and I do agree with the fact that they’re there, but tropes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. We as readers know what aspects of a story we like, and we continue to find other stories that include those for our own comfort and personal enjoyment. The point of them still being loved by readers is that they are still familiar while bringing something new to the table, but this story doesn’t go far enough on the originality factor, at least with its plot. It’s a variation of so many other stories out there of a young girl who must defeat an evil lord/king in order to save the land, and has several handsome suitors with secrets of their own to help her along the way and make her feel desirable. Like I said, it’s familiar and I have liked stories like that in the past, but this particular title didn’t have anything that explicitly stood out, even if the author’s writing was incredibly well done. This may just be because I have already read so many similar titles before it’s publish date; someone who’s not as familiar are has read a whole lot of Fantasy will enjoy this title tremendously!

Overall, I was intrigued but never blown away by Incendiary, but I can say I am curious enough to want to read what happens next when the next book comes out in 2021. Hopefully the second part of this duology will escalate with more brow raising antics and overall maybe just have more fun with the characters and the plot twists. I felt like this one played it too safe, so my fingers are crossed for the author to go further out with it.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a Robari, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred–or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she turned “hollow” during her time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit, is taken captive by the notorious Sangrado Prince, Renata will do anything to save the boy whose love makes her place among the Whispers bearable. But a disastrous rescue attempt means Renata must return to the palace under cover and complete Dez’s top secret mission. Can Renata convince her former captors that she remains loyal, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the entire fate of the kingdom–and end the war that has cost her everything.

Maybe when I take everything from them, they’ll take a little piece of me.”

– Zoraida Córdova, “Incendiary”

What I Liked:

  1. The Beginning! The beginning was honestly perfectly done for anyone to instantly be pulled into the thick of the corrupt kingdom, and then following the small group of rebels as they fight and plot for their freedom. Violence and death happen within the first chapter, even the prologue, and meeting Renata, Dez, and the other rebels was thrilling and exciting with complex relationships and the danger they all face. For people that rely on the very first few pages in order to decide if a book is worth reading, the author did an amazing job of providing an obvious YES to that within the first chunk of this story.
  2. The Ending! Just like the beginning, the last chunk of this book was so incredibly fast paced, full of betrayal and broken alliances, so much more excitement, and plenty of well done characterization too. Prince Castian was surprisingly a big component of all that I loved about how this book ends, but I’m not going to give too much away on that!
  3. There’s Plenty of Secrets & Betrayal! Like any good fantasy story, you can’t trust anyone. Everyone has an agenda, some more obvious than others, and Renata struggles to see who she can rely on or who she should seriously watch her back against. It made the book so twisty and fun!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Lack of Prince Castian…For such a key character, the wicked prince has a major hiatus within this book because he’s off at some undisclosed location for the entire middle of the book. You see him in plenty of flashback scenes, but nothing in present time until the big climax of the sun festival. As he makes his reappearance back into the story, he really shows some unexpected depth to his character and proves there’s MUCH more than meets the eye, so it made me disappointed we didn’t see him as much.
  2. THERE’S NO MAP…I will always point this out when it’s missing from a Fantasy novel! Especially when the story refers back to the history of the land and the many cities, battles, territories, etc. like this one does. It says the stories based off the Spanish Inquisition era Spain makes me just fall back on a map of Spain to use as a map, although it’s not canon whether that’s true or not. Maybe there’s not a map in the Owlcrate edition I own, I don’t know… all I know is, I don’t have an official map, so I’m gonna say something about it!

Conclusion:

Definitely a more well written YA Fantasy title to add to the collection, this one will surely be well received by many who read it! It honestly doesn’t offer anything too new or have many memorable characters, but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless; I know I will checking out the sequel when it comes out in a year from now, which will hopefully have some more fun and go a little more wild the next time around.

I recommend this to anyone who loves the female led fantasy series/books where with the help of friends and several love interests, they rise up against an oppressive ruler like Throne of Glass, Truthwitch, and Ash Princess. It’s brutal, there’s genocide and torture, but together they can rise and make their world a better place.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree: by Samantha Shannon

Publish Date: February 26th, 2019
Number of Pages: 827 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT+

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

It took me many moons, many breaks, and many other books in between, but I felt accomplished when I finished this behemoth of a Fantasy novel. Now, was the book as incredible as I hoped for it to be?…

Honestly, I find it hard to say…

There were quite a lot of parts of the story that I enjoyed immensely, some more than others, but I felt as though the book needed a little more editing done as in it maybe needed to be condensed because this book was long…so so long, and I felt like it didn’t need to be. There were quite a lot of high-octane, important moments that pique your interest, but with that comes a lot of slower moments within the four intertwining stories that may or may not be a real haul to cross over, and it felt like because of that the more exciting parts of the story fell flat because they couldn’t entirely hold up the weight those slower scenes gave us.

I will also say that when I started this book back in April 2019, I had no idea it was going to take me until October to fully finish it. The reason behind that was because those slower moments made me have to take breaks from it. The excessiveness made my eyes travel to other books to read in between sessions, and it was like I had to work my way up to getting back into this book. I look at other reviews, at least the ones that are glowing, and scratch my head at how those people managed to zoom through this large book in three days or less…

I didn’t hate it, and there are plenty of parts of it that I really had a lot of fun reading! The dragons and wyverns, even a new creature called an Ichneumon, the slow (literally so effing slow) burn romance, and I really enjoyed quite a lot of the characters. It’s like I said though, I think the author tried to do too much all within this book, that with inconsistent pacing that made it feel like the plot got lost a few times in the middle (or maybe just went off on a tangent too many times) that made the book not start to really interest me until about pages 450-500, and made me not enjoy this title as much as I could have.

Believe me, I am disappointed about that too…

What It’s About:

There’s an ancient evil that rose almost a thousand years ago; an enormous fire-breathing dragon known as “The Nameless One.” He was the king of all dragons and wyrms, and with his army of other fire-breathing creatures, he was destined to destroy the whole world in his raging flame and end life as we all know it. Miraculously, he was defeated and imprisoned deep beneath the ocean, with a myth that so long as there’s a descendent on the throne of Virtudom of the one that ended his tyranny, the dragon-king would never rise again.

Almost a thousand years later, The lands of the east and west are tense and isolated from each other; the reason being that there are different legends of how The Nameless One was actually defeated. The West believed a single man with a magical sword was the hero, while the east believe there water-dragons banded together and defeated their enemy. It caused tensions to rise, and for any alliance between them to end, and have shut their gates of entry with the east terrified of a draconic plague, and the west for thinking the east as heretics and “wyrm-lovers” for revering their water-dragons as gods, along with the possibility of them being allies with The Nameless One.

The story revolves around four main characters as they travel all over the world as rumors begin to stir that the king of dragons may once again ascend from his prison and lay havoc upon them all once again.

Tané has trained her whole life to becoming a high-level dragon rider in the East, but when a strange circumstance presents itself in front of her the night before her coronation ceremony, it causes her to make a choice that could ruin all the work she’d done, and all that she’d sacrificed to get there be for nothing…

Ead Duryan may live inside the walls of court, but she couldn’t possibly feel more like an outsider. As a lady-in-waiting, she keeps a watchful eye over the queen, Sabran Berethnet, who is the descendent of the one they believed to have vanquished The Nameless One. As threats draw near and shadows dance in every corner, Ead must use forbidden magic in order to assure no harm comes to Sabran in the dark times ahead…

Lord Arteloth “Loth” Beck, who is a close friend in Sabran’s court, is banished and sent on a dangerous quest in order to find answers, but finds more than he could’ve imagined…

Niclays Roos, former alchemist for Queen Sabran and her court, has been exiled in the East for many years, making him vain and bitter in his old age, but ends up on an unexpected journey for answers, justice and retribution…

What I Liked:

  1. The Dragons! I never tire of reading books with dragons (or wyverns) within the story. By the way, shout out to the author for knowing the difference between the two! Surprisingly, not as many people know the difference, Google it if you’re one of those people…
  2. The Diverse Cast of Characters! Representation matters, and that is a mantra the author must’ve told themselves as they created the cast of characters within this story. We’ve got almost all ethnicities involved, and even a good amount of LGBTQ+ characters are represented, two of them are of the four protagonists this story follows.
  3. The Slow-Burn F/F Romance! A major highlight of this book is how you watch a relationship start from literally nothing and experience how it develops into an uneasy alliance, to friendship, and then a romantic relationship. It was done so well, and between two important & complex female characters too! Yes, that’s right: a slow burn LGBTQ+ F/F romance!
  4. There’s Feminism Up The Wazoo! If people thought that Game of Thrones was feminine empowerment, think again; this title puts that comparison up in smoke. Every female is a strong, fierce lady in ancient times, even amongst the male characters and fiery demons of the sky coming to cause a lot of chaos. Also worth noting is how these all these powerful women are in high positions of power, which is surprisingly so rare for a fantasy novel!
  5. The Lady Of The Woods Shocking Twist! There’s a mysterious legend behind a witch known simply as “The Lady of the Woods” and seemed like a story that was used to frighten little kids to stay out of the forest at night. ***Mild Spoiler Alert***She’s real, and she plays a bigger role than you’d first think. At around the 500 page mark, a shocking twist is revealed and added some pretty brow-raising news that changes what everyone in this story was lead to believe their whole lives! It. Was. Awesome! Going off of that, there were plenty of other twists throughout the story, and they were fun, but they weren’t anything earth shattering or *gasp* worthy; I’d say this specific twist is the only one that got a big reaction out of me, and the reason behind that is because to me, it was the only one that felt like the author had it planned out before she even started her first draft, when she planned out all the major story beats. It wasn’t randomly placed or added for pure shock value, no, it changed the landscape of the story, and revealed the opposite of what was known as the “truth” was actually a lie for a very long time.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Moves Incredibly Slow…After the initial set-up, the book moves at a much slower pace than I’d anticipated. It’s rich and exuberant with the world building and character development, but when other reviewers on Goodreads say things like “Just stick with it, it gets so much better around 70% in”…Okay, a book SHOULD NOT take that long to finally get interesting…especially a book the size of this one…the book is gargantuan and could cause some major damage if used as a weapon.
  2. TMI With The Worldbuilding…This kind of goes off #1, but consider this more specifically towards the world building done in this novel; while part of me wants to commend the author for going so in-depth with all the history, the different cultures, the history and the legends, the languages, and of course the dragons…it just felt like some of it was a gigantic info dump that made the story so much slower to get through. Maybe it was all important to some readers, but to me, it felt like up to 200 pages could’ve been taken out; I didn’t need so much information on literally every single city they visited or the history of the crown in one of the kingdoms, especially if they were only a part of the story for one chapter.
  3. The Confusing Gender Politics…So while I loved the females with power in the Queendom, part of me was confused by the way their political systems were set up. My impression of some of the lands had the same set up as the same ole way as traditional male-dominated courts we feel familiar with in a plethora of other fantasy. It felt like it was supposed to be a polished and ready to be another chauvinistic, sexist society, but it simply wasn’t…it was just female instead. What my complaint about this is why have a female dominated rule be so similar to that of a male reign? Why not switch up the rules of how the court rules, how the royalty reigns? I felt like the author could’ve made the story a little more interesting if she maybe flipped the normalized, familiar societal culture of a fantasy kingdom on us and created something new and different.
  4. An Ending Like Season 8…What’s super ironic about the ending is that it actually felt so rushed and condensed…UNLIKE LITERALLY THE REST OF THE BOOK. It wasn’t a terrible climax, but I was still shaking my head as it ended and thought “That’s it?!?” It was squeezed in to make sure it was there, to reassure we get an ending, but maybe if the author took my advice and condensed the overall book, maybe she would’ve had either more time or more space to make it more memorable. Sloppy pacing in my opinion. (And yes, I’m referring to the final season of Game of Thrones if no one has caught that by now)

Conclusion:

A story with a rich and complex world full of mystique and wonder, and female empowerment in almost a surplus amount that makes it feel fresh, new, and exciting addition to the fantasy genre; I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this title as much as I’d hoped I would. In my opinion, the author maybe needed to have spent less time on their world-building, and maybe more time on tightening up the plot to possibly condense the intimidating size of this standalone novel.

The characters are the big highlight rewarded to those who dare lift this book off the shelf like a literary King Arthur and Excalibur in order to open it’s pages; they are complex, engaging and well-developed as they travel over land and sea and move the story at it’s inconsistent pace. I recommend this to anyone who loves dragon-centric fantasy, anyone looking for a well written female/female slow-burn romance, or someone who’s just looking for some badass, powerful female characters trying to save the world, and that I’m seriously not exaggerating on! Just because I may not have enjoyed it doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking into for yourself; the book has a lot of positive reviews which makes it incredibly worthwhile to a lot of readers! I just don’t want a book that grabs my attention at the halfway mark!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell