An epic tale of love and revenge set in a world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain pits the magical Moria against a terrifying royal authority bent on their destruction. Majestic world-building on a grand scale in a knockout YA fantasy.
An epic tale of love and revenge set in a world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain pits the magical Moria against a terrifying royal authority bent on their destruction.
When the royal family of Selvina sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, magic warrior-thief Renata – trained in the art of stealing memories – seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, only to learn through powerful memories that he may be the greatest illusion of them all … and that the fate of all magic now lies in her hands.
Loosely based on 15th century Spain, Zoraida Cordova’s Incendiary is the first novel in a new YA fantasy duology that explores the power of memory and revenge.
Renata Convida holds the power to absorb — and remove — people’s memories. As a child, she was kidnapped by the King and forced to use her powers to obtain knowledge from prisoners. After two years in the King’s clutches, Renata is rescued by a group of rebels named the Whispers.
The book is set eight years later, Renata now 17.
“When I open my eyes, it is dark once more. I register a tent. A low-burning lamp on the floor beside me. My lashes brush against soft fabric, not the dusty blanked I’ve been carrying for a week. The skin at the base of my neck is tender, the stitches like cords strung too tight. I let out a pained wail as the last thing I remember crashes over me.”
Admittedly, the book sets off to a slow start. We’re thrust deep into a storyline with characters we don’t know and the author expects us to sympathise for their plight. In reality, I was confused by the opening and found myself feeling distanced from the action. It takes some time before we understand characters enough to really sympathise for them, and I don’t think that’s reflected in Incendiary.
Renata and Dez’s romance doesn’t feel overly established in the beginnings of the novel, and so the reader doesn’t immediately care for their relationship. Fairly early on, Renata loses someone close to her but I felt we hadn’t really formed a connection with that character so the loss didn’t really hit hard. It felt like a missed opportunity to engage the reader.
Despite this, the novel picks up and the pace increases. Renata returns to the palace where she was held captive in order to save those close to her, and exact revenge on those who wronged her.
“We’ve ridden for hours, pushing our stolen horses onward without rest as the landscape changed from the Forest of Lynxes to the lush greens that border the Rio Aguadulce, but Andalucia is an oasis in a dry valley. I rub the flank of my horse. The capital is filthy, so we won’t stand out in our travel-worn clothes.”
The strengths lie within the world-building and the unique premise. Renata’s magical ability feels like a fresh addition to this genre — I felt genuinely impressed by what she could do and seduced by her character’s journey through the novel.
At times, the story feels a bit like a yo-yo. She’s kidnapped as a girl, then rescued, then willingly goes back to the Palace, and then works to escape again. I couldn’t help but wonder if the plot could’ve been simplified? Was Zoraida trying to accomplish too much in this book?
Truthfully, I never really felt like Renata was in any danger. When she returns to the Palace, she’s met with open arms because the King is in desperate need of her abilities. And whilst there are some people who are suspicious of her, the immediate threat — Justice Mendez — is not nearly as terrifying or threatening as he could’ve been.
“Silence falls in the darkness of the wagon as it jostles from our excess weight, a ship in a storm. I keep my eyes down and try to become aware of the capital’s deep night sounds. Hooves on cobblestone. Cheering from a tavern. Guards laughing from the wagon’s seat. From somewhere, a cry for help that won’t be answered.”
Readers will be propelled into an absorbing tale of magic and intrigue, and the ending will entice them to read the next in the series. There are plenty of twists and turns, unexpected deception and sketchy characters to intrigue even the most reluctant of readers.
Whilst the plot felt at times muddled and overly complex even for seasoned young readers, there are enough redeeming qualities in the characters, story and plot to maintain a readership.
Recommended for young readers, 14+
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Hachette Book Publishers