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.
Title: These Feathered Flames| Series: These Feathered Flames Duology | Author: Alexandra Overy | Publisher: Inkyard Press | Pub Date: 20/04/2021 | Pages: 496 | ISBN13: 978-1335147967 | Genre: Fantasy | Language: English | Source: NetGalley| Starred Review
These Feathered Flames Review
I’m not familiar with the Russian folktale “The Firebird” and that didn’t stop me from being fully immersed in this compelling fantasy. Overy gets straight to the action, and uses it to reveal critical truths about Asya, the firebird-in-training, who will one day take over the role of firebird from her aunt, Tarya. The contrast between Asya and her aunt highlights the important features of Asya. While she feels like a failure, she’s kind-hearted and hasn’t stopped caring about people. She starts to see compassion as her biggest weakness, because she doesn’t want to do what the firebird is supposed to do.
When people in Tourin use magic without paying a price, the firebird exacts a price from them. Sometimes the firebird takes their arm.
Other times, the firebird takes their heart.
The firebird lives inside the designated host, who learns they’re chosen to be the firebird at the age of 10 and immediately begins their training.
They train until the queen dies and a new queen must be crowned. That’s when the firebird rises full in them and they become the new, official firebird.
When that happens to Asya, it represents several things. She knows she isn’t ready and is upset about losing time as a mortal, because as the firebird, she won’t age and will enjoy super healing abilities until the firebird is passed on to the next vessel. She also won’t have a choice about punishing people who violate the rules of magic in her land.
She also knows it means her mother, the queen, is dead.
Asya is conflicted and must return to the palace for the first time in seven years.
Her twin sister,v, has been in the palace training to become queen. While Asya’s learned to fight with weapons, Izaveta has learned to manipulate and strategize. And she needs those skills more than ever, because it’s soon evident that people are plotting against the throne.
The problem is, she doesn’t know who’s conspiring against her, and she must be careful to protect herself and the queendom.
Suspicion and distrust cloud the relationship between the twins when they’re reunited, and Asya’s frustrated by being shadowed by a guard who’s allegedly supposed to protect her. She suspects her sister’s spying on her, and when she finds a murdered cabinet member, it only compounds the distrust in the court.
This is the foundation for the story, and covers the key factors from the early chapters. As the plot progresses, both Asya and Izaveta wrestle with internal battles between their instincts and their training. This feeds into conflict between the twins and conflict between each of them and others in the court.
The plot is relentless. There’s murder, intrigue, assassinations, and assassination attempts, attempted kidnappings, and personal conflicts filling every page. I felt the characters were believable and their motivations were convincing. Overy also did a great job of putting my head and heart at odds. I understood the price that must be paid, but like Asya, I sympathized with the needs that prompted people to use magic.
Tourin is a shadow of its former self, and the imbalance is threatening the nation. Can two 17-year-old girls find a way to restore the balance and save their nation before those who’re plotting against them strike? That’s the question lingering on every page of this book.
The only niggle with These Feathered Flames is that it’s a duology and does not resolve this story. Although the truth about the queen’s death is revealed by the end, there are a lot of things that aren’t resolved and readers will have to check out the conclusion to get the answers they’re seeking. I think it’s worth it, but people who don’t like cliffhangers may disagree. 4 stars.
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