Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova (Hollow Crown #1)
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers (The NOVL)
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Cover Artist: Billelis
Summary: 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.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Incendiary is a magical YA Fantasy, set in an immersive world inspired by Inquisition-Era Spain! Renata is a memory thief and plans to complete her commander’s mission, which means infiltrating the royal palace! This character-driven novel is filled with mystery, lots of twists, explores a unique magic system, and is layered in intrigue making it a solid start to a new fantasy duology!
Córdova has crafted a multi-layered, high stakes action-packed fantasy that I feel like more people NEED to read! While it can seem like much of the tropes explored are what we’ve seen before, there’s compelling themes such as hope and rebellion that propel this exciting story forward (I’ve also seen that she loves Star Wars, so I definitely feel like that was a major inspiration for those).
Renata is a Robári who was kidnapped at a young age and taken to the palace of Andalucia in Puerto Leones, where she unknowingly used her memory thief abilities to aid in her people (the Moria’s) destruction. Her unique magic has given her the power to create Hollows, which is a person whose memories have been wiped away. Now at 17, she’s part of the rebel group called the Whispers who are trying to overthrow the crown and save the Moria!
At the very beginning, there’s also a prologue that sets up the Whispers and an interesting character by the name of Prince Castian, current heir to the kingdom! While prologues can often be hit-or-miss to me, this one really set up the stakes for the world of Puerto Leones, Memoria, and the prince. Despite his absence in the story, the way Córdova builds Castian into the plot was so well done that he truly leaves an impression in the plot as Renata’s journey unfolds.
As part of a small group among the Whispers, Ren’s no stranger to the feeling of loneliness as an outsider, especially as one of the only Robáris. Among her group are Esteban, Sayida, and Margot (who she has some tension with). While she struggles to find her place in the group, they all stick together. She’s in love with her commander and best friend Dez, so its established pretty early on that that there’s something between them. Her love for him propels her to take action when she allows herself to get taken to the palace, but for good reason!
Not only has Dez been captured by the Bloodied Prince, but when she hears of a powerful weapon capable of wiping out the Moria (those with unique magical abilities), she knows there’s much better options than just to sit and wait. She allows herself to get captured so she can return to the palace and complete Dez’s mission.
As she spends time in the palace, she reflects on her childhood especially as she was taken under Justice Menendez’s wing. She used her powers at a young age as a weapon against her own people, but without fully realizing the harm it caused. With retribution and vengeance on her mind, she not only wants to pay for her past mistakes, but prove a lot not only to the Whispers, but to herself. If anything, she believes this mission will allow for her to make amends with her past.
With the help of her fellow Whisper group, she falls back into her role with Menendez, but with a renewed sense of strength and awareness to do what’s right. Although she’s kept guarded and has many watchful eyes, she slips to and from different parts of the palace to gather intel not only on the mysterious weapon with no leads, but also hatches a plan to murder Castian. Her dynamic with the Justice was an interesting one and it had so many layers to it. Ren knows he had sinister motives the older she became and reflected on her past, yet he treats her with so much kindness. One of the most interesting dynamics is Ren contemplating what she did as a young girl in the palace using her abilities, to now her much more distant feelings on the place she was raised.
The political intrigue woven throughout Incendiary, from Ren overhearing court discussions, attending royal events, befriending people from the inside like the workers even her own personal attendant Leo, and sneaking into various parts of the palace, it makes for some of the BEST intrigue I’ve read in a while! It never feels out of place and every moment she’s finding out loads of new information that can help her mission.
Leo and Lady Nuria (Castian’s former love) become some of Renata’s closest confidants as she tries to keep up her charade. They’re more of the fleshed out characters I enjoyed following and loved how they became Ren’s trustworthy friends, despite her hesitancy at first! Loved practically all of their scenes together and how in each moment, Renata learns more about herself in the process. Although it takes time, Incendiary is a novel that navigates the complicated relationships we have with those around us and how they may often change.
Throughout her time in the palace, Ren is confronted with her past as she feels a familiar pull to places around the palace, like the library! Renata’s magic is quite powerful, so an interesting defense mechanism that she uses is the creation of the Gray, which keeps all the memories Renata has taken, somewhat at bay within her mind. As a spy, this allows her the opportunity to navigate her powers in a much more introspective way as Renata not only gets flashbacks, but also feels a connection to parts of the palace that dredge up hazy memories.
As always, I appreciated the first-person perspective because there’s such a genuine spirit and complexity to Renata that makes her come to life and a wonderful protagonist worth following. She carries this weight of guilt for the powers she was born with, alongside an isolated feeling within her that makes her feel like she’ll never belong. It’s in all those reflective moments that make her a phenomenally well-rounded character. Alongside that, I think it also helps to keep the story unpredictable, so when all these twists and turns come, your left surprised! As you learn one more thing about this weapon, your left with a feeling of panic wondering if Ren’s plan will ever be figured out!!
The world itself is inspired by 15th-Century Spain, so there’s a lot of lore, history, and atmospheric details that make a unique world to explore. The architecture and descriptions that are woven into the story make it stand out as your reading, allowing it to become such an immersive setting.
There are 4 different types of Moria that were introduced to in the novel: Robári, Illusionári, Persuári and Ventári. While they each possess distinct abilities, it did feel like there’s some moments where more description would have established the magic system more concretely into the story. However, it as interesting to hear about magical items like the alman stones.
The themes seamlessly weave into the plot and I love how central they were to Renata’s character. It’s not only pushing her to learn more about her past, but also fight for a better future and that’s what makes it such an impactful fantasy!
Somehow I ended up spoiling myself for this, but it actually made the reading experience so much better? There’s little clues and hints that Córdova has woven in which make for lots of surprising moments and just makes it a fun read as your trying to piece everything together.
If anything my only minor issues are that Renata’s Whisper group did feel a bit underdeveloped at points, so compared to other characters, there was still something that didn’t make me fully attached to them yet. I also feel like because of the writing structure, it did make the scope of the world feel quite unbalanced. We know so much about the palace, most of the magic system, and yet it felt like the world is still a bit of a mystery. It just would have been great to get more detail!
Overall despite the 4 stars, I’m SO interested in seeing how the story unfolds in the next book. One thing this book is full of, aside from mystery is twists!! They’re built into the story in a way that just leaves you wanting to know more!!
Incendiary is the start to an intriguing duology with a fascinating world, magic system, and interesting cast of characters! As Renata goes on a rebel mission to save the Moria, she’s also facing her past! Its action-packed, filled with mystery, and has a page-turning story filled with tons to explore, it’ll sweep you away into new a magical world. Córdova’s start to her latest fantasy series is well worth the read!
Today I’ll also be shouting out a fellow book blogger review!! 🎉📚
I recommend Lila from HardcoverHaven21’s review!! She delves deeply into why Renata is a complex, flawed, and compelling main character! As a 5-star Incendiary review she basically gives you a rundown of all the amazing things that make this book a great YA Fantasy to check out!