YA Weekend: Heart of Flames 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 2 of Crown of Feathers
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 11, 2020)
Length: 640 pages
With Heart of Flames, this series is shaping up to be pretty epic. It does what second books are supposed to do, which is progress the storyline and raise the stakes! If you haven’t read Crown of Feathers though, you might want to skip this review until you’re caught up, as I’ll probably touch upon some of the insane fallout from the first book.
For one thing, war has arrived. The Phoenix Riders are busy preparing, rigorously training wings of new recruits for the coming battle should the enemy empire formally declare engagement. Veronyka, having shed her disguise, has reunited with her phoenix and has been accepted into their ranks. However, her challenges have just begun. She wants to be a Master Rider, but there are still years of learning ahead of her, time that she does not have. The countryside is being ravaged by the invaders, and all she wants to do is to fly out and defend them.
Meanwhile, she is also keeping a dark secret, one that gets more difficult to hide by the day as her shadow magic threatens to overwhelm her control and leak into the minds of others. Worse, those closest to her seem to be the most susceptible, including Val, whom Veronyka once thought was her sister who cared for her. Instead, Val turned out to be a power-hungry Ashfire princess who is using everyone as pawns in her grand scheme to retake her empire, and she is still using her connection with Veronyka to pull the strings. Then there’s Tristan, the son of the Phoenix Rider commander and now her superior officer. As Veronyka’s romantic feelings for Tristan become more involved, she also fears that he will become affected, and dreads the day she must tell him the truth even as she gradually gleans more about her own past.
Coming in at more than 600 hundred pages, Heart of Flames is a doorstopper, but considering the sheer amount of information the author needed to reinforce, compound, and establish, the length of the book will start to make more sense. Our characters are all facing the possibility of war in their own ways, each of them chafing at limitations holding them back. For Veronyka, much of her struggle is within. Finding out the truth about Val has been a huge blow to her emotionally, the betrayal filling her with anger and sadness in equal measure. She’s also impatient and frustrated, knowing she can be doing so much more, but until she can get her magic under control, she’s going to be a liability in the field and a danger to her teammates and their phoenixes. Basically, she’s a bit of a mess. Compared to all her other problems, the tension between her and Tristan almost feel trivial as she worries he might be favoring her over the other Phoenix Riders or going too easy on her. Not to mention her magic is endangering his safety, and he doesn’t even realize it.
Tristan on his part is also coming into his own, and I like that his relationship with Veronyka is a slow burning one while we focus our attentions on matters that actually progress the story and develop him as a person. Tristan is given a leadership position but often finds himself at odds with the decisions of his father, who still sees a young and inexperienced boy he looks at his son. In a way, those insecurities are a clever mirror to the concerns Veronyka feel about being overprotected and coddled by Tristian, which help him understand a little of where she is coming from. I do like how their romance wasn’t rushed or shoved in our faces and was instead given time to grow organically. It made their later decisions and sacrifices feel a lot more realistic.
Still, if you were to ask me if every page was utilized to its full potential in this clunker of a novel, I would say no. There were moments that dragged and sections that could have been pared down and reduced, though to be fair, the narrative never took too long to regain its pace. Here I must also confess I never felt too connected with Sev’s part of the story. This might have something to do with the first book, in which I thought he spent way too much time being parked in a holding pattern while more exciting things were happening elsewhere. Maybe to an extent, my lack of interest in Sev’s chapters was impacted by the fact I barely remembered his part in Crown of Feathers, so it was more difficult for me to pick up on his story thread again here. That said, I loved that his role was greatly expanded in this sequel, which is what I’d hoped to see. Sev definitely mattered a lot more this time around, with a romance of his own and more opportunities to make an impact on the big picture. Of all our characters, he probably saw the most growth in this book, and I’m sure he’ll continue to rise in the next one.
But what really took the cake weas the ending. The final chapters were a sprint through to the climactic showdown, and after that conclusion, I’m pumped for more. In fact, I didn’t even mind too much the cliffhanger, even if it does mean a tougher wait for the concluding volume. But come phoenix fire or high water, I will be there.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Crown of Feathers (Book 1)