YA Weekend Audio: Furyborn by Claire Legrand
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Empirium
Publisher: Listening Library (May 22, 2018)
Length: 17 hrs and 24 mins
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
After I finished Furyborn, the first description to come to my mind was “ambitious”. Told in alternating chapters between the perspectives of two young women separated by a thousand years, this is a novel that demands a fair bit of investment and patience from the reader, though if you do manage to see it through to the end, you might find the payoff rewarding if you’re lucky.
First, we get to meet Rielle. As a daughter of a nobleman, she got to grow up at the palace, becoming best friends with crown prince Audric and his cousin and betrothed, Ludivine. The three were inseparable, until one fateful day during a high-profile horse race, Rielle had to reveal her magical powers while trying to save Audric from assassins, and suddenly, everything changed. For it’s one thing for Rielle to possess power, another to have the ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. It is said that the only people who should be able to do so are a pair of prophesied queens: the Sun Queen, bringer of light and all that is good, as well as the Blood Queen, who will bring death and destruction. To determine which one she is, Rielle is put through a series of dangerous trials to test her magic. If she can’t prove she is the Sun Queen, she will be put to death—that is, if the trials don’t kill her first.
Next up, we have Eliana, whose storyline begins a millennium after the time of Queen Rielle, a figure who has become more legend than reality at this point. After the Undying Empire conquered her homeland, Eliana was left with no choice but to serve her new masters as a bounty hunter in order to keep herself and her family alive. She also has special powers, but because magic is thought to have left the world, she keeps her abilities a secret as not to draw any attention to herself, especially given her chosen profession. But then, her mother suddenly disappears, snatched away like so many other women in the city. While the empire shows no mercy to rebels, Eliana ends up joining the resistance in the hopes that they will help her find some answers, but what she learns is more than she ever bargained for.
First things first: I’ve never made it a secret my struggle with books that utilize multiple timelines, so in a way, I’d known as soon as I discovered the story’s format that Furyborn would be an uphill battle. With two entirely different perspectives in play, there was twice as much groundwork to cover, so not surprisingly, I also felt that it took the book twice as long for it to finally get somewhere. The first hundred pages were perhaps the toughest; things were confusing and vague, huge chunks of the story felt missing, and worse was knowing that this was all likely done on purpose. To the book’s credit, the holes do get filled in as time goes on, though getting to the point where everything finally makes sense can be quite tedious. Add to that, the author attempted to end every chapter on a cliffhanger, which was murder on the pacing, not to mention how watching the resulting plot acrobatics of trying to get this to work while keeping the story interesting at the same time were just downright exhausting.
I also didn’t feel a connection to either Rielle or Eliana. Part of this is due to the format, as one could hardly expect a narrative that’s constantly going back and forth between timelines to be conducive to quickly making the reader feel invested in any one character. And quite honestly, they both just felt kind of bland. Granted, I did find Rielle and Eliana likeable enough, but I also didn’t find anything too memorable about them to latch onto either.
That said, despite what might seem like nothing but harsh criticism so far, I actually didn’t dislike this novel. It had some great ideas, and no doubt the author had an incredible and creative vision for the end result. I just don’t think it quite got there. While the story was interesting, it could have been more. I also didn’t think the book had to be so long, as much of plot was padded with action and other fluff. It was fun, but in the end, not too substantive or meaningful.
All this is ultimately why I cannot give Furyborn more than a middling rating. Sure, it had its moments, and maybe as the series grows it’ll gradually become something more, but as an opener, this first novel was simply too forgettable. It’s a shame because it could have—should have—been more with such a strong premise and original concept behind it, but in the end, there was just something lacking in the execution.
Audiobook Comments: I’d originally debated giving this one 2.5 stars, but in this case, a good narrator made all the difference. I love Fiona Hardingham; she’s one of the best in her line of work, and her performance was able to add just a bit extra to the story.