Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova (Hollow Crown: Book 1)

Renata Convida has a special type of magic. The kind that can rip your memories away. She can take a little: your first kiss, your biggest loss, the secret codes of a rebel army… Or she can take it all. Make you a ‘hollow’, nothing more than a shell of who you used to be. Ren is everyone’s nightmare. But now she works for the Whispers, renegades fighting against the persecution of those with magic, the Moria. Not an easy task when it emanates from the highest echelons of society. When her commander and lover is captured by the Prince, she vows to rescue him. But things are not quite as they seem and Renata is going to have to find the answers in herself before she can truly help anyone else.

This a deceptive, thoughtful read. One that morphs from one thing to another, moulded by the protagonist’s path of discovery. It gives the book its own kind of investigative momentum, with the reader learning at her pace. Ren might hold the memories of hundreds of others, but she has lost so many of her own, hidden within the Grey that blocks her from her past. Her remembering is the story. The narrative changes, she changes, as this process unfolds, as she evolves from what others tell her she is, to who she really is… and who she wants to be. It’s for this reason that the point of view is, and has to be, determinedly hers, a perspective characterised by her position as perpetual outsider. She has never been trusted, never been truly safe. Both her usefulness a weapon and as an inescapable danger to others shapes their every interaction with her. That, plus her lack of ability to recall her own story, makes her a volatile character, often reactionary and emotional. In seeing her flawed and floundering, it is impossible not to think about how the choices we make are based on what we know, what we’ve learned. Take that personal journey away and it would be like trying build our identity, our very selves, out of rumour and dreams. There’d be nothing solid to hold on to. It's an idea, a feeling, communicated in the book's opener, set up like you’re starting in the middle of something. Though there was a moment of disconnection, when I just had to quickly check that I hadn’t missed a book, the author’s reasoning became ever more clear as I read further. It makes sense to give the reader a taste of what Ren feels: the challenge of not knowing what came before. It creates a shared experience. The blanks are filled in for reader and Renata together, finding out that way brings us closer.

This structure gives the plot a somewhat uneven pacing, but the battery of revelations during the finale was perfectly pitched. There was so much awesome in this last bit. My heart nearly couldn’t take it. While the hints had probably been clearer to the reader than the main character, the way the reveals were piled on each other in the final section gave it a punchy feeling. The new direction offers a real freshness and a much more interesting cast list. There's no doubt I'll be reading what comes next.

8/10 A deceptive, thoughtful read

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