YA Weekend: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau-Preto
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: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Crown of Feathers
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 12, 2019)
Length: 496 pages
Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau-Preto is a book I had been excited to read ever since I first learned about it, and it’s easy to see why. I was immediately drawn to the idea of a world full of rich history and legends about warriors who rode fiery phoenixes into battle, and the premise of a girl who disguises herself as a boy, which happens to one of my favorite tropes.
The story transports us to the Golden Empire, a land whose people are no strangers to war. To the victor goes the spoils, while those defeated are left to lick the wounds. For our protagonist Veronyka and her sister Val, however, it also means being on the run from the anti-magic forces who are now out to hunt them down. Both of them are animages, individuals with the power to form magical bonds with animals. In practice, this connection is also the relationship that allows the famed Phoenix Riders to control their mounts, before their order was dissolved following their loss in the war.
Consequently, anyone with the talent are now considered enemies to the current rulers of the empire, but some have chosen not to flee. Sev is an animage who is currently a soldier in the army, hiding in plain sight while watching, listening, and gathering information. Meanwhile, Veronyka still has dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider. Together with her sister, they scour the land for any surviving phoenix eggs, hoping to hatch new bond companions. But after much heartbreak and a riff between the siblings, Veronyka is left to strike out on her own, arriving at a secret camp where a group of rebels are hoping to establish the Phoenix Rider traditions. Joining them and their mission is everything Veronyka has ever wanted, except of one major setback—the rebels are only looking to recruit males. Not content to let a little problem like that get in her way though, Veronyka decides to disguise herself as a boy and gains access to the camp as Nyk the stable boy. During training, she also meets and befriends a fellow apprentice named Tristan, the commander’s son.
First, while I found Crown of Feathers incredibly enjoyable to read, I have to preface this review with a caveat—if you’re looking for a light and airy YA fantasy novel to pass the time, this isn’t it. In fact, it’s quite the slow-builder, and while the story itself is straightforward enough, the details of the world and its history make it feel quite dense. The main conflict also takes some time to emerge, with a first half that plods along and requires patience. That said, I liked how this section developed many of the relationships between the characters, not to mention this was also where we saw the first signs of the fascinating schism between Veronyka and her sister Val. This is definitely not your typical sibling rivalry, and Pau-Preto did an impressive job portraying the complex nature of the love and bitterness in their relationship.
I think the time spent with each character also helped me feel more of a connection to them. I confess I wasn’t a fan of Veronyka at first; she seemed a bit flighty and too consumed with her own problems. I wasn’t all that into Sev’s story either, and even after finishing the book, I thought he spent a good chunk of the story being parked while more interesting things happened elsewhere. Still, I think his chapters served their purpose in showing the political state of the empire as well as the tensions behind the scenes, and his backstory also provided more insight into the history of the Phoenix Riders. I hope his role will feature more prominently in the series as it progresses, so that we find out more about his character. As for Veronyka, I think I eventually warmed to her once she joined the rebel camp, and especially when she befriends Tristan. He’s the love interest, of course, though I have to give major credit to the author for not making this book all about their romance. While it’s clear that’s where things are going, these days I’m more interested in a meaningful relationship between a couple rather than how quickly the story can get them together, so I really appreciated the fact that we get to take things slow.
The book became even better once it found its stride. The final revelations also stitched together the many pieces of the plot, threads from both past and present, and made everything clear in the end. Yes, Crown of Feathers is a novel that requires a bit of time and emotional commitment, especially if you were expecting something that throws you into the action right away. But for all that, the story was very enjoyable. Overall, a very solid beginning to a promising new series.