Series: Hollow Crown #1
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group
Content warning: Genocide, torture
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Taking inspiration from Spanish Inquisition Spain, Zoraida Córdova’s duology starter is an ambitious work with love and war at its core.
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 memory thief, 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 drained during he time in the palace.
When Dez, the commander of her unit – and the boy she’s grown to love – is taken captive by the notorious Príncipe Dorado, Renata must return to Andalucia and complete Dez’s top secret mission herself. Can she keep her cover, 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 fate of the entire kingdom – and end the war that has cost her everything.
There are those rare stories that grip you, latch on to you from the first page until the last – those stories that make you stay up all night just so you could finish it. Incendiary is one of those rare stories.
Action-packed and so full of twists and turns from start to end, Incendiary sank its claws on me and dragged me on a trip to a volatile and dangerous world. I enjoyed this book so much. It has everything I ever wanted in a fantasy – magic, court intrigue, spycraft, and revenge – I ate it all up.
The story follows Renata Convida, a róbari – a memory thief – the rarest of the magic-wielding Moria. Kidnapped when she was a child and manipulated into being an instrument to hunt and persecute her own people by the cruel King Fernando and Justice Méndez, the leader of the King’s Justice, she was rescued by the Whispers. Now a young woman and a member of the rebel Moria group, Ren is dead set on destroying her former captors’ rule and to take back Memoria from her conquerors. But when Dez, her friend and love, is captured and executed by the Bloody Prince, Prince Castian, Renata is forced to go back the palace, to her enemies, to finish Dez’s last mission.
Córdova takes on an ambitious work with this book, and it pays off.
Inspired by Spanish Inquisition Spain, this story’s world feels real and familiar in its brutality and its workings. The degradation of the subjugated peoples and the erasure of their way of life – their culture, traditions, religion – felt uncomfortably close especially to someone who is from a country with a long history of being colonized. I couldn’t help but see my own people in the Moria.
Incendiary is intricately plotted and heavily driven by this same element. At any given time, there are about two or three plot threads being explored in the same chapter. But, amazingly, it doesn’t overwhelm, coalescing and adding up instead to form a solid, formidable base for this whole series to stand on. It was fun trying to piece together stuff and try to figure out how things will go down, try being the operative word in that statement. It was, I think, the most enjoyable bit of this book for me.
The magic system, while it could use some more elaboration, was another thing I loved about this book. The use of metals – gold for the illusionári, silver for the ventári, copper for persúari, and platinum for róbari – to amplify the magics of the Moria was an interesting detail and makes me wonder if alchemy will play a bigger role in the next book.
Córdova also did an awesome job creating intriguing characters you’d want to get to know and root for. Though, with this story being heavily plot-driven, the exploration these characters – Sayida, Margo, and Esteban, Lady Nuria and Leo, even the main trio of Ren, Dez, and Prince Castian – suffers a bit. It’s one of the things I wish will be remedied in the next book.
Still, even with its flaws, Incendiary is a riveting story full of nail-biting action and intriguing politics. The conclusion of this first installment leaves a lot open for the next one to explore, and I, for one, am excited about it.
ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA is the author of nine fantasy novels for kids and teens, most recently the award-winning Brooklyn Brujas series, Incendiary, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, Come on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is the co-editor of Vampires Never Get Old: Eleven Tales with Fresh Bite. Her debut middle grade novel is The Way to Rio Luna. She is the co-host of the podcast Deadline City with Dhonielle Clayton. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.