Incendiary

Incendiary was written by Zoraida Córdova and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy novel set in a world where a puritanical king has virtually hunted magic users to extinction. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Most of Andalucía has fallen under the control of a tyrant. King Fernando of Puerto Leones has gradually expanded his empire to take over the surrounding kingdoms. Yet Memoria has been hit harder than most. The Moria were once formidable magic users, but Fernando’s Justices have largely wiped them out. From the ashes of Memoria has formed a rebel faction – the Whispers – who have dedicated themselves to protecting their surviving people and bringing an end to Fernando’s reign.

Renata Convida longs to be recognised by the Whispers, but it seems like they will always view her as a traitor. Not only is she a rare Robári – a memory thief – but she also was once the property of Justice Méndez. Although she was just a child at the time, her people have not forgotten the fact that she once sold them out to the Justices in exchange for sweets and favours, and are always quick to remind her of this fact.

When a mission goes wrong and Renata’s captain and love is taken prisoner by the enemy, she knows that she must do everything in her power to save him. Even if that means returning to the capital and Méndez’s care once again. Her goal is to have her revenge against the monarchy by killing the King’s heir – a bloodthirsty monster called Castian – and destroying a weapon that he has created which supposedly strips Moria of their powers. Yet, as she spends more time in the palace, she begins to uncover an unexpected mystery with the Prince at its centre. Just what is going on, and how are the Whispers connected?

As a fan of Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas series, I was truly excited to get a copy of Incendiary in my last Owlcrate. Sadly, I was left a little on the fence regarding how I feel about it. In some aspects, this novel absolutely blew me in away. In others, I was really disappointed. Let’s begin by talking about the positive.

The world of Incendiary is rich and unique. While this is very much a fantasy novel, its setting is inspired by 15th Century Spain. It is a world where a puritanical King has gradually seized control of many neighbouring kingdoms, allowing his “Justices” to seek out and persecute any magic users. While this does mean that the novel can be a bit grisly in places (it’s definitely not one that I would recommend for sensitive readers), it does create a dramatic backdrop that is ripe for rebellion.

I also loved the magic system that Córdova employed in this novel. The Moria’s powers are more akin to psychic abilities, ranging from mind reading to memory theft. This was, again, a pretty original approach to take. It also meant that all of abilities that we see in the story are fairly low-key, even when augmented by the corresponding precious metals that increase their potency. It also made it believable why King Fernando would be so frightened of the Moria. What despot would not be unnerved by a faction who had the power to tear out all of his memories with a touch?

However, Incendiary did have some serious issues with its pacing. While the novel got off to a dramatic start, it quickly slowed to a crawl and did not really pick up its pace again until the final fifty pages. A majority of the story was simply spent following Renata around the palace as she looked for a way to have her revenge. When I say “looking”, I really do mean this in its loosest possible sense. Renata rarely stumbled across anything that she could use unless it just fell into her lap. The result was that Incendiary felt incredibly unfocused, as it did not truly seem as though Ren had a plan in mind until close to the end of the novel.

While the final few chapters were suitably action-packed, they also were not without their problems. The nature of the “weapon” was a bit predictable, but Ren did not learn this until very close to the end of the story and so it ultimately did have much impact on the tale. The final chapter also abruptly explained the motivations of a couple of important characters, which left the story feeling very open-ended. While I would personally have liked a little more closure, I am optimistic that the sequel will be a lot stronger. If nothing else, I am curious how these eleventh-hour discoveries will affect Ren’s journey.

In terms of character, Incendiary was also very varied. Renata is a strong female protagonist and I very much liked the way that Córdova presented her conflicted feelings towards both the Whispers and Justice Méndez. While both sides offer her a place to stay, it rapidly becomes clear that both are also more than happy to use her for her power. Her opinions towards both groups grow increasingly complex over the course of the tale and certainly helped add a shade of grey to proceedings.

However, no other character received as much development. While we learn a lot about Castian as the story progresses, a lot of this is through exposition as he does not actually appear as much in the story as it first seemed. While I am sure he will get a lot more focus in the sequel, I was ultimately left uncertain of how to feel about him. Renata’s allies amongst the Whispers were all solid supporting characters, but did not get much time to shine as they were absent for a large portion of the story.

Yet it was the villains that I felt were especially weak. There really wasn’t a lot to King Fernando or the Justices beyond their unrepentant cruelty. While Incendiary does at least try to add some depth to Justice Méndez, this still did not sit quite right to me. His relationship with Renata never felt especially paternal, as it was always clear that he was using her as a means to an end.

Anyhow, I think I’ve probably rambled for long enough. Due to the pacing and shallow supporting characters, I was sadly left feeling a bit underwhelmed by Incendiary. Still, the world-building and magic system that Córdova has developed are utterly fascinating. I still have high hopes that the sequel will be stronger and look forward to reviewing this in the future.

Incendiary can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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