Release date: 20th April 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
Read: 17th April 2021
Rep: sapphic main character, sapphic love interest, f/f relationship, deaf side character
CW: death of a parent, fantasy violence, kidnapping, attempted murder, on page death, major character injury, on page emotional abuse, references to physical abuse, self harm for magical purposes
A queer retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale
When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.
But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.
As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.
I really enjoyed this book!
Asya and Izaveta were both interesting characters and I found both of their povs compelling! Their relationship as sisters was the core of the book, and from the very beginning I was invested and rooting for them to be able to reconcile and work together. Seeing them rediscover their childhood closeness, strengthen that bond, and realise how important they are to each other, was an absolute delight. I got a little frustrated with Izaveta at times, more so during the first half of the book, but her thought process was always understandable even if she did occasionally make an incorrect assumption. Of the two of them, Asya’s my favourite. I love them both but Asya’s my favourite. She just wanted to fix things and make things right! I’ve seen Overy describe her as ‘a cinnamon roll who thinks she’s a monster’ and that description is bang on.
A lot of this book’s plot is based around the political intrigue of court. The timeframe of this book is the twelve days between the death of the sisters’ mother, the Queen, and the day of Izaveta’s coronation, and there are a lot of people vying for power during this time. Izaveta has been raised with the knowledge that she would have to deal with all this one day, but she wasn’t expecting to be thrown into the deep end quite so soon, and it does show. Mistakes are made. But she’s still very capable! There’s a running theme of the game zvess, which is the in-universe equivalent of chess, and while Izaveta may not have ever beaten her mother at the game, she’s no slouch at it either.
The romance was pretty low key for both girls, and I liked that. I enjoyed Asya’s slowly developing enemies-to-lovers not-quite-relationship with the girl assigned as her personal guard. It was believable, and their development felt genuine. There were real reasons why they were ‘enemies’ in the first place, reasons that do complicate things between them nearer the end of the book and likely will in the sequel as well, but the process of them growing closer despite those reasons was done really well! Izaveta’s romance was even more of a slow burn, to the point where I’m not entirely sure whether it’s accurate to call it a romance at this point. A lot depends on what direction the sequel goes in, which I’m excited for either way.
The magic system was really interesting! In this book’s world, anyone can do basically anything with the right spell, but every spell requires a price to be paid, in the form of a sacrifice from the caster’s body. How much needs to be paid depends on the spell being cast, it could be as little as a lock of hair or a few drops of blood, but it has the potential to be a lot more. The job of the Firebird is to go after those who cast spells without paying this price, because if such an imbalance is allowed to stand then it ripples outwards and things start to literally fall apart. This system doesn’t make any exceptions for anyone regardless of their age, intention, or extenuating circumstances, and that’s kinda what makes it so intriguing. Just as there are those both in and out of universe who would call it cruel, there are those both in and out of universe who would disagree and would call it fair. It all depends on your perspective.
There’s just one thing that stopped me from giving this five stars, and unfortunately it’s a pretty big thing. A huge pet peeve of mine in books is when the pov character hides something important and relevant, so if they were a real person they would’ve definitely been thinking about it, from the reader, just for the sake of there being a dramatic reveal at a particular point later on. (The exception to this is when the book is playing around with the fourth wall, but this isn’t that kind of story.) This happened twice in this book. The first time was relatively minor, and there was a lot going on at the time, so while I did notice it happening I wasn’t as annoyed about it as I could’ve been. The second time was huge, and put almost all of the book so far in an entirely different context. I would’ve much preferred it if that bit of information had been shared with the reader from the start, and I genuinely think that the story would’ve been more interesting if it had been. Explaining this any further would be getting into spoiler territory, but if you read this book you’ll know what I mean.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it! I’d especially recommend it if you enjoy court politics, because there’s a lot of that going on here. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out!
I received an e-arc through TBR and Beyond Tours in return for an honest review. Thank you so much for having me on this tour!! You can find the complete tour schedule here or by clicking the banner at the top of this post
About The Author
Alexandra grew up in London and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her undergraduate degree in history at UCLA. She then went on to compete her MFA in screenwriting also at UCLA, and stuck around for the weather and great ice cream. She loves writing in all formats, from novels to screenplays to graphic novels, always centring on fierce women and morally grey characters, often with a bit of magic and murder. When she’s not writing, she can be found baking, fangirling over her favourite books, or cuddling her kittens.
About The Blogger
El is a 21 year old university student from the UK who loves to read and loves talking about what they read. They particularly like to focus on books featuring lgbtq+ main characters.