As a Robari, a memory thief, Renata is the most powerful strain of Moria magic. She was only a child when she was kidnapped and used as a weapon by the crown. After a siege, Renata was rescued by the Whispers. She now works as a rebel spy against the crown. But with a traumatic past in tow and a misguided idea about her own capabilities, being the driving force in a rebellion is going to prove a lot harder than she could have ever expected.
Despite the stereotypical YA elements, which we all know frustrate me to no end, this book sounded incredible. Fantasy met with a political revolution is a story that, to me, has so much potential. I’m glad to say that Zoraida Córdova lived up to that potential and created a story that was wildly compelling, thrilling, and had me gasping for air at more moments than not.
It’s hard reading novels of this nature because even though the tropes annoy, for lack of a better word, the shit out of me, I can see their value to the story. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has read my reviews that the love story element of this novel was very lackluster to me. I didn’t feel the yearning but rather was simply told that it exists. Also, the temperamental existence of trust between Renata and the Whispers. I really hope this is built upon in the second book because I couldn’t for the life of me decipher whether Renata was truly a valued member of the Whispers or whether it was a case of, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Lastly, Renata annoyed me a fair bit. As did her relationship with the Whispers, her ideas of herself went back and forth. I understand WHY she behaved and felt the way she did, due to her traumatic childhood and how no one seems to respect her as an equal at the Whispers. But she maintains such an air of self righteousness that this deep-rooted insecurity clashes with the other elements of her personality. She exists as if she is only going to do things the way she wants to do them, but she will be insecure about it the whole time. At some points in the novel her self righteousness makes sense, which I will delve into later, but overall it felt as though there was complexity forced upon her character which at times took away from the ferocity of the plot.
Speaking of the plot, I commend Córdova’s ability to take something as simple as a magical revolution against those who aim to destroy it, something that has been done many times before and make it extremely exciting and fresh. Incendiary is based loosely in Inquisition 15th century Spain and that really shines through. Not only was the setting refreshing, but the world-building and integrity of the magic was really thorough. One of my favourite elements of this was how magic came at a physical cost to its user. That is a small detail and while it didn’t play a huge role in the sequence of events, I really appreciated the attention to detail. Despite such a familiar plot premise, and while of course each world has its own set of circumstances and is built differently, Incendiary laid everything out for us straight away, setting itself apart from the overdone pack. I found this to be relieving as there is nothing worse than reading a book and having to figure out the context for the first half. From this well built political setting, the tension played out comfortably, with the severity of each move and counter move feeling extremely consequential.
As I said earlier, the love element of this story was quite annoying to me so it’s safe to say it was hugely gratifying when Ren’s own blindness in the face of love bit her in the ass. I don’t want to spoil a HUGE moment in the book which forced me to go back and reread to make sure I comprehended the words correctly. BUT, Ren’s love for fellow rebel Dez really got her in quite the pickle which deepened the stakes and led to the ensuing trap she needed to get herself out of, all while following through on a whole separate revenge plot. Gosh, I hope that doesn’t sound too ominous, I don’t want to spoil it too much. Just trust me on this one.
I’m sure you will all roll your eyes and say it’s typical of me to like the predetermined evil guy most, but I really enjoyed the character of Prince Castian and his arc. I think it is clear from the beginning that there is a deeper element to him that Ren is blind too, regarding his familial relationships and self-distancing from his father. It is revealed on page seven (during a flashback Ren isn’t involved in) that
“With her Persuari gifts she could take a fraction of any emotion that existed within someone and bring it to life, amplifying it into action...But when she focused on the prince, she could only see a faint, muted gray.”
So not only is there more depth to him emotionally, but magically, too. Which is rather juicy if you ask me, considering he is the heir to the reign fighting to destroy all magic. So if that isn’t a scandalous subplot worth exploring, I don’t know what is. For Ren, he is the root of all evil and the way this motivates her, leading her towards a resolution NONE OF US anticipate was a really clever and entertaining story arc.
I found Renata as a character to be forcibly complex. I can’t say I enjoyed her, and I definitely wouldn’t be friends with her but while there are many reasons she isn’t a desirable character for me, I can see how at times this complicated protagonist worked well into the plot. Without her autonomous approval, Ren has dipped her toe in the ponds of both camps. Being stolen and brought up as a weapon against her people from the Monarchy and later being rescued, by the revolutionaries and taken to “sanctuary.” On this basis alone it is easy to understand why Ren is so back and forth with her sense of self because she has never really been given a choice when it comes to where she belongs. So no one (except me, obviously) can really blame her when she is in two camps about making decisions for herself. As I said earlier, she is desperate to be the hero but deep down she’s so insecure she doesn’t think it's the job for her. How utterly annoying. HOWEVER, I think it is this overcomplication and confusion about her place in the world that ultimately is her saving grace when it comes down to the thick of it.
Despite containing elements that I personally just don’t generally enjoy, Incendiary is quite a phenomenal and exciting novel. It had me racing back to confirm I really did just read what I just read, gasping, rolling my eyes, and overall itching to get to the end. I think it is a book of value that should lead the fantasy genre because it gives us the same classic story in a well thought out world of fresh contextual setting, with a range of characters worth loving and hating.
by Zoraida Córdova
384 pages. 2020.