Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: 15th April 2018
Author Website: Claire Legrand’s Website
When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and one of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed as the Blood Queen…unless the trials kill the queen first.
One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.
As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.
I received Furyborn as a birthday present two years ago from my lovely friend, yet only picked it up this month. I know, I’m ashamed. I was waiting to be in the right mood for it! Then finally, that craving to pick up that dark hardback with the deckled edges woke me last Tuesday, the stars aligned, and I was finally read to embrace my destiny with this book. Or, I laid out three books in front of my dad and asked which I should read. Which version sounds better?
My dad or destiny, I’m glad they picked this book for me. Though I had plenty I wasn’t a fan of, I did overall have a good reading experience, so let’s get into the review.
We first meet Rielle in the prologue as a feared queen who has murdered the king, her husband, and has just given birth to a baby girl. With her baby’s life threatened, she hands the baby to a young half-angel, begging him to hide her while she fights off the ‘leader of the angels’.
With Rielle’s and the baby’s fates uncertain, we are then taken back two years, to when Rielle is only a Lady, secretly admiring the prince she will come to kill, and harbouring a secret power.
One thousand years later, we meet our second protagonist: Eliana. Eliana is an assassin working for the Empire to eradicate rebels who seek to incite an uprising. She acts without mercy, though not without consciousness of her cruelty. It’s merely a way to provide for her family and her lover.
However, when she is tasked with finding the Wolf – the right-hand man to the leader of resistance – her mother ends up missing. The Wolf confronts Eliana, claiming that the rebels had nothing to do with her mother’s disappearance, and offers his assistance… for a price. Eliana must help the Wolf get into the palace and complete a dangerous and mysterious mission, that could end up costing her not only her mother’s life, but the life of everyone she cares about.
Switching between these two protagonists, I was faced with an odd dilemma, in that while I liked Rielle as a character more than Eliana, I found Eliana’s plotline to be more compelling. When I was reading, I found myself torn between wanting to get back to the character I felt more attached to, or the story arch that I was most invested in.
Eliana as a character wasn’t one I found myself immediately in love with. At all. To begin with, she is very much a ‘ruthless assassin’ stereotype. She hides her emotions under a flirty, arrogant exterior that grates on you from the first chapter, while filling chapters of her angst about doing what she does. She cannot admit to those around her what she already knows in her heart, that what she is doing is wrong, but she is also conflicted with how good she is at killing, and how good it can feel.
This sounds like the making of an interesting morally grey character if she could shrug off the stereotypes that we’ve all seen so many times before, but instead, her development feels almost like a redemption arc that we didn’t ask for. The development isn’t smooth either. In fact, it’s hard to get a grasp of her character because she flips between ‘ruthless, flirty assassin’ and ‘remorseful victim’ so quickly that it’s almost jarring.
However, I will say that she grew on me – though I think it’s more accurate that I accepted her because I was interested in where her story was going. By the end, I did finally feel that sympathy for her that I know I should have been feeling throughout.
Rielle is similarly difficult to pin down. I’ve seen people describe her as a bland character, and I would agree with that to an extent. I think her earlier chapters are definitely stronger and her personality shines more through them. As we progress more through the book, however, though she does these incredible, powerful things, I felt that she lost a little bit of her edge. We are supposed to watch her descent into darkness, to become the Queen who murders her husband and is feared throughout the land, but I didn’t feel that. Anything morally objectionable that happened seemed to be borne out of an accident than the cruel intention of a woman losing her morality.
Furthermore, the reason I disliked Rielle’s storyline is because in order to prove she is the Sun Queen, she must undertake a series of trials to test her abilities. The trials, while full of danger and tension, just felt boring to me. I don’t think that’s an issue to do with this book, rather the concept of trials in books themselves. I just find them predictable and low-stakes, even if they are ‘life or death’. There’s something about the manufactured danger of them that just makes me lose interest.
So far this is a very negative review for a book that I actually didn’t actively dislike, so I’ll get into the positives. I did enjoy the romances between Rielle and Audric, and Eliana and Simon. They didn’t overcrowd the story – in my opinion – and weren’t the main focus of the plot, but they were nice little additions when I needed that hurt/comfort fix. You know what I’m talking about.
This book is also very sex positive, which is great. The sex scenes themselves were hit or miss but fairly graphic, so I would say that the book falls on the older end of YA (I don’t think twelve year old me would really know what to do with that).
I also really liked Claire Legrand’s prose. I’m going to be talking about some examples of that in a future blog post (which I’m really excited about!) so I won’t say too much, but some of her descriptions are beautiful. I noticed that she does a great job with describing the abstract, of which there is quite a lot in this book, ie magic from a source called the empirium. There are visions and events that I know I would have a struggle with trying to describe but I think she really pulled it off.
I have seen some reviews criticising the bi rep in this book and to that I say… bi rep? I noticed a few characters mentioning that they had had sex with men and women before but it was never addressed again, so I just kind of did a small nod of appreciation at the casualness with which it was said and moved on. I have a feeling that bisexual representation was a selling point when this book first came out, and if that’s the case and you go into this book purely because of that, you’ll be disappointed. I think it’s maybe two lines. Like I said, it didn’t bother me at all because that’s not what I was promised going in (I had very little previous knowledge) and I think casual queerness is great, but I can see why people’s expectations weren’t met.
I feel bad about how negative this review is because I truly didn’t dislike the book! When I was reading, I was enjoying myself, even when I was picking out some of the book’s flaws. It was still an enjoyable reading experience, and it’s still a book I look fondly on and will probably read the next book of.
If you like:
- Dual timelines.
- Romance and sex in your fantasies.
- Trials as a plot device.
- Angsty assassins.
- Characters discovering their powers.
- The prologue. Just read the prologue if nothing else. It’s great.
Then this is the book for you!
If you don’t like:
- Angelic fantasy.
- Fate and destiny (Chosen One trope).
- Stereotypical teenage assassins.
- TW: Violence, torture, animal abuse, slavery.
Then maybe give it a little more thought before picking this one up.
Have you read Furyborn by Claire Legrand? Let me know and we can chat!