Title: Illusionary Author: Zoraida Córdova Series: Hollow Crown, #2 Pages: 368 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Release Date: May 11th 2021
TW: mentions of alcoholism and self-harm
**Contains Incendiary spoilers**
“In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas. Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other. With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all. For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.”
“We were given the power of a goddess, but we are still breakable things.”
Renata – Renata has been used my others her whole life. She’s been taught that her Robári abilities are dangerous, and her only value is as a weapon. Much of her agency has been taken from her. When she was young Justice Méndez manipulated her and exploited her. When she became a Whisper, she hoped she had found a place where she belonged, but the Moria rebel group never truly accepted her. In Illusionary, Renataś journey is one of self-discovery, learning to reclaim and value herself. She is able to find people who accept her for who she is, who help her in accept herself, and who trust her unequivocally.
Castian – If there was one thing I wanted more of in Incendiary, it was more Castian. He is probably the most puzzling and intriguing character in the first book, so I was very pleased that we as readers got to pull back the curtain and find out exactly who the Prince of Puerto Leones really is.
Second-love – I don’t want to give too much away, but it felt really refreshing reading a YA where someone’s first love may not be their be all end all. Renata is a different person than who she was at the beginning of the first book and as a result who she wants to be with and what she needs in a relationship has changed.
World-building expansion – I loved exploring Córdova’s world more in this sequel, meeting new characters, and seeing the magical system itself expand.
Epilogue – I can only recall one other book whose epilogue goes so far into the future. There are books that end that leave you wondering what happens next for the characters and I loved that we got to see what happens years down the road. We don’t always get that kind of closure as readers.
Dez’s storyline – With the first book’s revelation about Dez, I expected to see more of him in this book and felt that he deserved more page-time. Also connected to this is my desire to see more Margo. She is partially responsible for what happens to Renata at the end of Incendiary, and their reunion is a little anticlimatic considering all animus.
Secondary characters – Incendiary and Illusionary have some great secondary characters like Nuria and Leo, but there were a few characters that I really wanted to get to know more about and we didn’t. At the top of my list is Queen Josephine, wife of King Fernando. I feel like she would have made a great ally or enemy. It’s hard to say as we learn so little about her.
Zoraida Córdova concludes her Hollow Crown duology with Illusionary, giving Renata the space to unlearn harmful beliefs about herself as well as the means to reclaim herself as her own.
Title: Oculta Author: Maya Motayne Series: A Forgery of Magic, #2 Pages: 544 Publisher: Blazer + Bray Release Date: April 6th 2021
TW: abuse, racism, suicide
“After joining forces to save Castallan from an ancient magical evil, Alfie and Finn haven’t seen each other in months. Alfie is finally stepping up to his role as heir and preparing for an International Peace Summit, while Finn is traveling and reveling in her newfound freedom from Ignacio. That is, until she’s unexpectedly installed as the new leader of one of Castallan’s powerful crime syndicates. Just when Finn finds herself back in San Cristobal, Alfie’s plans are also derailed. The mysterious organization responsible for his brother’s murder has resurfaced—and their newest target is the summit. And when these events converge, Finn and Alfie are once again forced to work together to follow the assassins’ trail and preserve Castallan’s hopes for peace with Englass. But will they be able to stop these sinister foes before a new war threatens their kingdom?”
“He could feel goose bumps rising on the wall, pressing against the back of his neck. It was excited to have him so close, eager for another addition to this repulsive room.”
Alfie – One of my favorite things about this series is the lead characters. Alfie remains one of my favorite male characters in a fantasy series. He’s softhearted, idealistic, willing to do anything for his kingdom and the people he loves. Despite the loss of his brother and his struggle to take on the responsibilities of leading a kingdom, Alfie doesn’t lose his desire to do better for his people. He sometimes falters, but he still presses on.
Finn – Finn thought she was free from Ignacio, the man who raised and molder her, but in Oculta she must come to terms with her inner demons that take on a familiar form. Finn is also thrust into an unfamiliar position, becoming a thief lord and in charge of one of the underground gangs. Finn is used to working by herself; her motto has always been to look after herself first. Her relationship with Alfie continues to challenge her preconceived ideas about herself and her tendency to go it alone.
Luka – Every scene with Luka is pure gold. Luka once again adds a bit of humor to the story. He is less diplomatic and more cheeky in how he deals with others compared to his cousin. But I love that Luka got to be more than the comedic relief in this one. He is dealing with survivor’s guilt and his new found abilities. How he deals with this adds tension between Alfie and him and it was really interesting to see their roles kind of reversed in this one.
Colonization – Oculta brings Castallan face-to-face with its former colonizers, the Englassens. A peace summit between the two countries is meant to broker a truce, but instead has caused strife within Castallan. The people have not forgotten how Englass enslaved their ancestors, stole their language, and cut them off from magic. Alfie and his parents have sought out a dialogue in hopes of eradicating Englass’s magical caste system which currently prevents the lower class from practicing magic. Not an easy feat when Englassen royals worldview is so rooted in privileged and power.
Rushed ending – So much happens in the last couple of chapters of the book that at times it felt a little rushed. As a reader, I wanted a little more time to process certain revelations.
More Finn and la Familia – I really enjoyed Finn’s storyline with la Familia, but thought the novel could have delved deeper into this organization. Aside from one person, we don’t get to know la Familia and I think it would have served Finn’s character to see her interact with the children that Kol once employed in particular.
With Oculta, Maya Motyane explores colonization, politics, and civil unrest in a sequel that is sure to make readers scream for more with its unpredictable ending.
Title: Fire with Fire Author: Destiny Soria Series: N/A Pages: 432 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers Release Date: June 8th 2021
TW: panic attacks and ableism
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**
“Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned. Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.”
Dani – Dani was born into a family of dragon slayers, but dragon slaying is the last thing on her mind. While a natural when it comes to combat, she wants a life outside of the family business. She wants to spend time with her best friend Tomás and work a summer job instead of spending endless hours training with her sister. She’s driven by passion which often makes her impulsive, but it also makes her determined to do what’s right even if it means going against the people she loves.
Eden – Eden is determined to be the best dragon slayer she can be. More rigorous in her training, she often grows impatient with her sister’s cavalier attitude. She should be the superior fighter, but no matter how much work she puts into training, Dani always seems to outshine her. Something that doesn’t seem fair when Eden has dedicated so much time and has given up any semblance of a social life in pursuit of the family legacy.
Sisters – I love that Fire with Fire‘s main relationship is sisterhood. Dani and Eden are very different from one another. They don’t always see eye to eye and there is a lot of frustration between the two, but they also love one another fiercely and in time discover how much they can learn from the other.
Dragons and magical system – I don’t think we can ever get too many dragon books and this is only the second book I’ve read with Latinx protagonists in a dragon fantasy. In this story, dragons are the source of magic, it flows from them, but they are also dangerous creatures prone to violence against humans. Both dragon slayers and sorcerers have made it their mission to rid the world of dragons, but they often clash when it comes to the right methods.
Magic and mental health – Appreciated seeing the novel address magic and mental health. One really important storyline is that magic does not fix mental illness because having a mental illness doesn’t mean a person is broken.
Romance subplot – There is one romance subplot that plays out really quickly and that I couldn’t buy into. If the character had been introduced earlier, it would have made it more believable.
Destiny Soria once again delivers a unique fantasy with Fire with Fire, filled with heart-stopping action and the resilient love between sisters.
Title: Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun Author: Jonny Garza Villa Series: N/A Pages: 341 Publisher: Skyscape Release Date: June 8th 2021
TW: physical abuse, homophobia including slurs, forced outing, suicidal thoughts
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**
“A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self. Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life. Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self. Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone. Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.”
Julián – Julián is an easy character to like and root for. He knows he can’t come out because of the hostility his father has always shown about the very idea that he could be gay. The only thing that gets him through is imagining life after high school, of going to college in another state where he’d be free to be himself and finally be happy. When he accidentally comes out on social media, he has to deal with the inevitable falling out, but there is also this new idea that he doesn’t have to wait to be happy, that if he embraces himself and puts himself out there, he has a chance to experience good things in the now.
Friend group – I really enjoyed Julián’s friend group. They are all different people, but they balance each other out so well. When they are together, it is chaotic and fun. They are there for Jules in different ways and it was so nice to see this support system. I especially loved Jules’s relationship with Jordan. They are so supportive of one another and effortlessly affectionate. It’s the kind of relationship between two male characters that I would like to see more often.
Discussion of homophobia in Latinx communities – There is a clear juxtaposition between Jules’s friends’ reaction versus his father’s. Jules’s has kept a part of himself hidden for fear of how his father would react, especially because he’s been abusive in the past. It isn’t unusual to encounter homophobia in Latinx communities and Jules’s father isn’t the only Latinx character who is homophobic in this book. It’s a stifling environment to grow up in and unfortunately creates a lot of self-hate. And it’s ever more heartbreaking when these derogatory comments come from people you love.
Familial relationships – Jules’s older sister, Xo, and his grandfather became the family he deserves. They are the ones who embrace him when his father rejects him and do not expect anything from him other than the opportunity to love him. Friends are one thing, but I think it was really important for Jules to have the support of family as well.
Mat – Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy issues, but it also provides plenty of smiles. Most notably is Jules’s relationship with Mat, a boy he meets online and one of the first people who supports him after he comes out. Their interactions are flirtatious and butterflies-in-your-stomach inducing. There are so many sweet moments between the two, but the real world is always there to remind them that they live so far away from one another. They have to figure out if what they have is real, if their relationship is plausible, and what happens after they graduate if they don’t end up in the same place.
Nothing to note.
Jonny Garza Villa’s Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun is an addicting, swoon-worthy read about coming out and finding that happiness can exist at the end of even the darkest tunnel.