REVIEW: Crown of Feathers – Nicki Pau Preto

Crown of Feathers

Author: Nicki Pau Preto (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Ink Road Books

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

I AM A DAUGHTER OF DEATH.
FROM THE ASHES I ROSE,
LIKE A PHOENIX FROM THE PYRE.

I had a sister once.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Sometimes the title of Queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

–––

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And, meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

I saw this book floating around on insta a few months ago and was suitably intrigued by the beautiful cover and the title, so when it went up on NetGalley I was in there like swimwear. I personally had never seen a title which focuses on phoenixes, although I’m sure they must exis, but the novelty really grabbed by attention.

The first thing I think is interesting about this book is that, despite how in-depth the history and building of this world is (and it is pretty thorough, going back to the founding of the nation), Preto keeps the plot well-controlled and has managed to build precise rules and constraints which keep the storyline and concepts manageable. Whilst this is a fantasy book, there is essentially one type of magic in this world, with small variations and developments. Animages have the ability to communicate with and control animals. Some are able to bond with phoenixes and develop a unique relationship  that allows them to communicate on a higher level and share emotions, sensations. Some – a rare few – are able to even access the thoughts and control other humans. That is the only magic, and phoenix are the only magical creatures. This allows the broader history and the present story to be built on and fleshed out wonderfully without ever feeling like things are being skipped over, that focus is being mis-distributed.

There is a real talent in being able to restrict your writing, to set boundaries which stop your story from spreading too far and instead allowing you to really dig deep into what’s there. Preto absolutely nails it, with exactly the right level of background and current plot to keep the story moving, whilst allowing plenty of time to really explore the character relationships and motivations. I will just warn that there are some potentially triggering things in the relationships – particularly between Veronyka and Val, where there is a definite controlling and abusive dynamic.

I found Veronyka to be an excellent narrative character – she was appealing, empathetic and resourceful, whilst still being able to learn alongside the reader, so it didn’t feel like they were being talked down to. I felt that her narrative was the strongest, and when Tristan’s voice was introduced it provided an excellent alternative view on Veronyka’s story whilst still keeping her in the frame. Their chemistry was great, their growth together was great, and the fact that it hit the same trope as Flame in the Mist, but still managed to give it a different flavour, was exactly my jam.

The only issue was that it meant that Sev’s narrative, whilst necessary for the plot, felt slower. I was less invested in it, and it felt like things went more slowly. I suspect part of this is because Sev wasn’t driven in the same way Veronyka was, his entire character was built around avoidance. He didn’t invest, he didn’t commit, all he wanted to do was protect himself. His story was important for information that would move the plot forwards, and which would impact on Veronyka and her story, but not until the last quarter of the book. So when Veronyka was barrelling towards her ending, pushing as hard as she can to get what she wants, it always felt like switching to Sev was a sudden stop. Momentum was lost and it took a while to get back into the rhythm.

Particularly at the start of the book as well, it felt like some of the history embedded into the narrative slowed things down. Each chapter ends with excerpts from the history of the civil war which changed regime of the country and turned animages into slaves and criminals. These are a good way to drip-feed information and tie it in with some of the conversations and memories shared, but sometimes in the narrative there are quite long passages explaining the backstory of some of the areas, or the wars which felt a little difficult to wade through.

However, by the time you hit the halfway point of the book, this has settled down and it’s easy to get sucked along by the story. This is an excellent opening book for a new series, I’m invested in the characters and their development, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the world broadens. By the end of the book, Sev is in a place with his narrative that he should bring his own momentum too, whilst Veronyka and Tristan are on the cusp of something very exciting. The way history is constantly re-examined and re-considered during the story as well is something I enjoyed a lot, and the importance of perspective can be so key.

The end of the book feels like the door opening on something new, and the start of a change after a regime where no-one seemed to be winning. I can’t wait for book two.

Briefly:

  • A strong start to a new series which balances world building and character development wonderfully. The narrative characters are relatable and enjoyable, I want to spend more time with them.
  • Honestly, the main couple have chemistry and I SHIP IT. That’s another reason I’m looking forward to book two, because they hit a number of tropes I love and it’s so foreshadowed and I can’t get enough. “You’re more than a friend… You’re a… close friend.” THESE NERDS.
  • I just. Really enjoyed seeing phoenixes in the narrative? Dragons get a lot of press, but phoenix tend to be reduced to support roles (Hello, Fawkes). Seeing a fantasy mythology built around them really delighted me.

Rating: 4/5 – I’m very excited by this and all the potential it has. Book two can’t come quickly enough.

Crown of Feathers is released in the UK on 25th April 2019.

9 thoughts on “REVIEW: Crown of Feathers – Nicki Pau Preto

  1. Susan Crosby says:

    So glad you loved this book! I absolutely loved it, as well. I can’t wait for the second book to come out! Like you mentioned, the relationship works and that is a hard one to get by me these days. Obviously, not the only reason I love it… just saying that is some damn good work. lol

    Liked by 1 person

  2. writingthebluesaway says:

    I saw this cover a while ago and thought about how beautiful it looked, I’d never seen a story about Phoenixes either. I’m glad this this is more concise and doesn’t load you with plot or information like many fantasy novels. I definitely want to read this!

    Liked by 1 person

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