Incendiary

In the past couple of years, I’ve been getting more into both fantasy and YA fiction. I’ve also been drawn to books by Latinx authors (partly because my husband is Peruvian) and am always excited to read books set in my favorite country, Spain. So all of those facts combined led me to the perfect book: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova. I picked it up several months ago, but decided to wait until its sequel, Illusionary, was out before I began (I hate waiting between books!). I had just started Incendiary when I found out that the author’s next book, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, was an August pick for Book of the Month, so now I’m in the midst of reading three Zoraida Córdova books in a row! Happily, I loved Incendiary, so I’m perfectly content to stay with this author for a few more books.

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova
SeriesHollow Crown (#1)
AudienceYA
GenreFantasy; Historical Fantasy
SettingAndalucía, Spain
Number of Pages450
Format I ReadHardcover
Original Publication DateApril 28, 2020

Official Summary

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.

Review

I have to start this review with a confession: It took me a long time to really get into Incendiary. Usually after 50-100 pages, I’ve been sucked into a story. But for whatever reason, although I was truly enjoying Incendiary from the beginning, I struggled with it for nearly 200 pages before it fully clicked for me.

This was probably more due to my inexperience with high fantasy than anything else. I’ve read fantasies before, but usually ones with much less world building and magic to explain. With Incendiary, there’s a lot to absorb: an alternate, Spain-like world with different city names and geographical features; a complex set of magic types among the Moria characters; plenty of backstory explaining the main character, Renata Convida, as well as the political and life-threatening turmoil her people are in. For a seasoned reader of high fantasy, this should be easy enough to take in. But for me – and maybe this is because of the headspace I was in when I started reading it – all this background information made me need to read the book in one- or two-chapter installments.

(Also: an unexpected event somewhat early on really upset me! And I had to stop for a few days. But I’m not going to talk about that because major spoilers!)

I took my time with Incendiary, and I’m glad I did, because it gave me a chance to really get into its world. And once it all clicked for me – maybe 200 pages in – I was hooked and flew through the remaining half of the book.

One thing I love about Incendiary is how unclear everything is. Things aren’t black and white, and you have to keep reinterpreting and reassessing both characters and events. For example, Renata was a child when she was stolen from her family and taken to the palace to be raised by Justice Méndez. He’s almost like a father figure to her, and yet he was also her captor and someone who made her do horrific things to others. But then she was rescued by the Moria – people who, like Renata, have magic. But they, too, can be seen as captors to some degree. They’ve also never trusted Renata, in part due to her past, and in part due to what kind of magic she has as a Robári. It seems that wherever she goes, she’s viewed as a weapon more so than a person to be loved. And yet, wherever she goes, there are good people she can trust as well as people who will never trust her, who will stab her in the back or use her. Does she belong anywhere? Can she ever be loved? Trusted? Cared for?

Renata is also deeply conflicted about herself. She’s haunted by her past and the Hollows she made, and she’s determined to prove to the Moria that she can put things right. A lot of her past, and herself, is buried in her memory, in the area she calls the Gray. I really felt for Renata and the guilt and shame she felt. I also wished she had more of a support system, perhaps beyond Sayida and Dez, that could help her forgive herself and recognize that she was a victim more than anything else. Her inner conflict is thought-provoking, but I was often incensed at how others mistreated her again and again.

Incendiary offers up a rich world of diverse magics, set in a sort of Spanish Inquisition. But instead of Catholics driving out Muslims and Jews, here we see non-magic people in power driving out the Moria, people with magic. We see mirrors of the Spanish Inquisition, for example, in how the Moria’s books are destroyed, erasing the knowledge they’d amassed over centuries.

There’s a lot of action throughout the book, from sword fights to memory erasure, from becoming a spy in a castle to smuggling a royal out of a prison. There’s blood and death, politics and incriminating secrets, and some tender moments, too. This is a book that keeps you on your toes, switching between settings and types of events so it never gets stale.

Perhaps my favorite part of Incendiary is the last 150 or so pages. Some major revelations come to light, but as Renata says at the end, these new answers just lead to more questions. Indeed, there are some intriguing surprises that I’m eager to explore more in the novel’s sequel, Illusionary.

Although I struggled for the first part of the book, I completely loved the latter part of it. Incendiary ends with a significant cliffhanger, so I’ll be diving into its sequel immediately.

Final Thoughts

Incendiary is an exciting and dense novel of a lonely and conflicted woman trying to do what’s right in a fantasy version of the Spanish Inquisition. Once the world, magics, and backstory have been established, the novel moves forward with great speed and action, but that ending will require immediately picking up the sequel, Illusionary. You’ve been warned! Luckily it’s out now, so there’s nothing to hold you back from reading both of the Hollow Crown books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

About the Author

Credit: Sarah Younger

Zoraida Córdova is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen novels and short stories, including the Brooklyn Brujas series, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: A Crash of Fate, and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina. In addition to writing novels, she serves on the Board of We Need Diverse Books, and is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old, as well as the cohost of the writing podcast, Deadline City. She writes romance novels as Zoey Castile. Zoraida was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and calls New York City home. When she’s not working, she’s roaming the world in search of magical stories. For more information, visit her at zoraidacordova.com.

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