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.
Thank you so much Harper360YA for an e-copy of this book!
One week after I finished this debut novel, I am still struggling to give it a proper rating, and I don’t know where I stand.
The general basis of the story is the retelling of the Russian folktale of the Firebird, which is quite an innovative idea to bring into the YA fantasy scenes. It’s a story of twin sisters, and their destiny is forced by the nature of the magic of this world, one of them will become Queen, the other will obtain the powers of the Firebird. Whenever someone casts a spell, the Firebird must take a payment from whoever used the magic (which often results in losing a limb of your body or more) or the balance of the world will be at a risk. The sisters are forcibly separated at a young age until they meet again, but because of the different upbringings and experiences, the bond they used to have is now gone.
This novel is prominently character-driven as it is told by Asya and Izaveta’s POV. The plot in general was a great roller-coaster, in the sense that you have lots of slow moments inside the two main characters’ heads while analysing every single action/word said by the other sister or anyone else in the story. Then you have a burst of detailed fast-action scenes and plot twist moments. But, the moments of personal introspection slow down the overall reading experience.
This story gave me some “Wicked Saints” vibes, as often it talks about the deity of this world, but it doesn’t go further than that. Both saints and the purpose of the Firebird slowly lose importance within the story. All the main issues connected with this world, such as the payment system if you use magic, the imbalance of the world caused by this process or the “Fading” (the magic disappearing from this world) they all lose relevance and they are not explored further. Politics and sisters’ relationship become the main points of the story, with all these moments of personal introspections.
I can’t say I wasn’t invested or I wasn’t enjoying the story, because I found the two main characters quite strong and with absolutely opposite personalities and traits. Izaveta is an intriguing to-be-queen character, almost a villain, so obsessed with politics and so manipulative. Furthermore, there were great revelations in the end that I didn’t see coming, so the plot and the good writing kept me intrigued.
I guess, if I have to pinpoint what didn’t work for me for this story, I would say that those plot twists at the end, they were unexpected, yes, but they were dragging to a point where I wanted these mental trips to be over and I was tired of the constant drama with the sisters. The f/f relationship in the story was a welcome addition, but as per the magic system and purpose of the Firebird, unfortunately, it was not explored enough.
Here we go, I don’t know where I stand with this book. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t WOW-great either. I know it has the potential to steal many readers’ hearts but I guess it didn’t steal mine. I am saying this with a heavy heart because this novel was one of my most awaited releases of this spring. It’s just that I was not so invested in the story and considering the ending and epilogue, I am afraid I don’t feel like I want to read the sequel.