Illusionary

Four days ago I finished Zoraida Córdova‘s Incendiary, the first in her Hollow Crown duology. I really enjoyed it, and with that cliffhanger ending, I couldn’t waste a single moment before diving right into its sequel, Illusionary. I flew through it and actually loved it even more than the first book! I’m still swooning over it!

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova
SeriesHollow Crown (#2)
AudienceYA
GenreFantasy; Historical Fantasy
SettingAndalucía, Spain
Number of Pages345
Format I ReadHardcover
Original Publication DateMay 11, 2021

Official Summary

In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas.

Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other.

With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all.

For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.

Review

Incendiary was a richly woven start to the Hollow Crown duology. There was a lot to catch up on in the first half of it, but once the world and story all became clear, it moved at breakneck speed. It really hit its stride near the middle, retaining momentum through its exhilarating end. But with where it left off – with Renata suddenly, begrudgingly, working alongside Prince Castian – there was no way I could take a break before getting into Illusionary. It was far too exciting.

Illusionary more than delivers, even exceeding its predecessor. It offers everything that made Incendiary a thrilling ride, but it also adds in some new elements that elevate it further. Humor! Romance! Character growth! It’s all here.

Right away, the stakes feel higher in Illusionary. The prologue opens with King Fernando, and let’s just say that he is not happy. It has a pretty stress-inducing scene, and as we move on to what Renata and Castian up to, there’s a looming worry about when the King’s evil plots will catch up with them.

Speaking of Renata and Castian: I’m a big fan of the fake married couple trope, and it was a joy to see them in these roles, especially as semi-enemies who might be developing a real attraction to each other. It’s super funny, even though we’re already seeing how troubled Renata’s mind is. The Gray seems to be fractured, and it’s occasionally debilitating when Renata has an episode.

Those themes become enhanced as the pair travel south, eventually being joined by one of my favorite characters from Incendiary, Leonardo. Leo is great at egging the other two on, and he lights up every scene he’s in. The trio continuously stumble into nerve-wracking encounters, keeping the story thrilling as they work towards their kingdom-saving mission. There are so many wonderful scenes and characters here, but in the interest of keeping this spoiler free, suffice it to say that this is a joy to read.

In addition to the humor that runs throughout the novel, Illusionary also has plenty of serious moments, especially in regards to Renata and Castian. They’ve both gone through a lot and have tons of traumas and regrets. Castian is coming to terms with information that completely changes how he understood his life up to this point. Renata is battling the Gray, her broken mind, and her wildly evolving powers. The personal turmoil that plagued her throughout Incendiary is now finally being resolved in Illusionary. She starts to get the care she needs to help her heal and become a better, happier, and more confident version of herself. Renata’s character growth here is excellent and heart-warming.

The romance between Renata and Castian is also dreamy. They’re too similar in many ways, and yet that can also be what makes them such a well-matched pair. But Renata is still making sense of what happened with Dez – a man she loved but who seems to have left her behind. How could he do that to her? Why is he acting the way he is now? This book examines both a breakup and the start of a new, stronger partnership. It also focuses on the need for open, honest communication; that’s the only way to develop the foundations needed for a lasting relationship.

Beyond the romantic relationships, Illusionary highlights friendships, too. Renata was so alone throughout Incendiary, even after spending years with the Whispers. Most of them never trusted or liked her. But here, we get to see her blossom with people who choose to be with her. Leo is perhaps the best for her, offering pure friendship in contrast to the romantic feelings Castian has for her. Others that they meet on their journey also prove to be valuable in Renata’s growth, including a much-needed mentor to help her understand and control her magics.

Illusionary shows Renata growing into herself, trusting herself, and fully accepting who she is. She becomes stronger and more self-assured, but also more tender and loving towards others. These changes lead to a powerful ending. After some turbulent reunions with characters we first met in Incendiary, everything comes together in a perfectly done climax.

The book ends with a sweet epilogue, promising both years of happiness our characters will enjoy, as well as a spark of some more adventure awaiting them.

Final Thoughts

Illusionary is a stunning, action-packed, magical adventure full of romance and connecting with who you are – all set against a Spain-inspired fantasy landscape (well, and seascape). As much as I loved Incendiary, this sequel is even better. I’m officially a fan of Zoraida Córdova, and luckily for me, I already have her next book in my hands and ready to read. Look out for my review of her adult debut, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, next week!

Rating: 5 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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