Incendiary (Hollow Crown #1) Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Incendiary (Hollow Crown #1)

Author: Zoraida Cordova

Published By: Hodder and Stoughton

Publication Date: 28th April

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Renata talks to Sula about her laundry.

Content Warnings: Arson, blood, death, loss of a loved one, grief, suicidal thoughts, torture, trauma, violence and war themes

Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, this in no way affected my opinion of it.

I’ve been hearing good stuff about Zoraida Cordova’s books for a while, so when I saw her new book, Incendiary was available for request on Netgalley, I jumped on it: a fantasy set in a world inspired by Inquistion Era Spain? Sounds pretty awesome. There were definitely aspects of the book I enjoyed, the magic system was pretty cool and I liked the writing style, but the plot was incredibly slow paced and the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

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.

I’ll start with my biggest issue of the book: the pacing. I’ve been having this issue a lot with books lately and I don’t know if it’s me or the books, but either way, this book definitely felt really slow going. It starts off with a bang, you’re thrown right into the action but almost immediately slows down and remains that way for the rest of the book. Rebel spying in the palace seems like it should be a fun story, but in reality, it’s mostly Ren wandering aimlessly around the palace hoping that clues will land in her lap. It also falls into the trap a lot of slow paced books do, where the ending is rushed and then it feels like it ends on a really strange point because the author has taken too much time on buildup.

I really did enjoy Zoraida Cordova’s writing style, it hooked me instantly from the beginning and was probably what kept me reading even when the plot was feeling very slow.

I loved that LGBTQ+ characters were included in such a casual way in this book, that was brilliant to see, one of the main side characters was gay and then there are female monarchs from other lands who are mentioned to have “queen consorts” which I thought was pretty cool.

The magic system was pretty cool, the idea of a character being able to steal other people’s memories was brilliant. We also have characters who can create illusions, who can read people’s minds and who can manipulate people’s emotions. I also appreciated how the author showed the negative effects that using magic could have on the people who used it, as it always feels way too easy if there are no consequences to being able to use magic.

The characters felt a little flat to me, we don’t really get to know any of the Whispers aside from Ren and even then, Ren herself wasn’t the most compelling heroine, her constant self pity got a little irritating after a while. Some of the side characters, like Leo and Nuria both sounded really interesting but we barely get to know anything about them.

It’s also very hard to invest in Ren’s relationship with Dez when Dez barely feels fleshed out at all. The villains also felt kind of flat, we don’t get much of a sense of their motivations which makes it very hard to feel like they present any kind of real threat.

When it comes to naming places, you should definitely ensure that they don’t sound too similar to any character name or name of anything else in your novel as I kept getting super confused between Memoria (name of a place) and Moria (name used for people who had magic).

There are quite a few twists in the book that I guessed, I didn’t guess all of them, but overall, the plot is largely quite predictable and there’s nothing massively shocking about any of the “big reveals”.

Overall, this book had an interesting concept but fell somewhat short in the execution. I’m still interested in reading the second book in this duology, but I reckon my expectations for it will probably be lower than they were for this one.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Neal and Jarrod Shusterman’s Dry, which I’m almost done with, I’m expecting to finish it tomorrow.