Book Reviews, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Review: The Boy With Fire by Aparna Verma

A vengeful god will soon awaken…

Yassen Knight was the Arohassin’s most notorious assassin until a horrible accident. Now, he’s on the run from both the authorities and his former employer. But when Yassen seeks refuge with an old friend, he’s offered an irresistible deal: defend the heir of Ravence from the Arohassin, and earn his freedom.

Elena Ravence prepares to ascend the throne. Trained since birth in statecraft, warfare, and the desert ways, Elena knows she is ready. She only lacks one thing: the ability to hold Fire. With the coronation only weeks away, she must learn quickly or lose her kingdom.

Leo Ravence is not yet ready to give up the crown. There’s still too much work to be done, too many battles to be won. But when an ancient prophecy threatens to undo his lifetime of work, Leo wages war on the heavens themselves to protect his legacy.

Thank you to NetGalley and New Degree Press for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Boy With Fire has been presented as Dune meets The Poppy War; I have read neither and don’t intend to do so anytime soon, so I can’t testify to how true the comparison is, but I can say that this book is absolutely brilliant, and can speak for itself! It follows three points of view, all very different, and is set in Ravence, a great city in the desert in an Indian inspired world. I’m not usually big on desert settings, especially for prolonged periods of time, but I loved the way Verma described the dunes, and the way she has created a world that has a much older feel while using futuristic technology. I was thrown for the first few pages by holopods and other tech in the middle of a bazaar, but soon got used to it, and it certainly helps to make this and exciting and unique story.

The two main points of conflict within this story are the possibility of war with the neighbouring kingdom of Jantar, which has been expanding its borders and causing an influx of refugees into Ravence; and the return of the Prophet, the chosen of the fiery god the Phoenix, who is said to one day return and exact justice through the Prophet, burning everything in their path. With all this happening on the eve of Elena taking over the throne from her father Leo, the king is determined not to hand her a broken kingdom, so he arranges for her to marry Samson, a rich mercenary with a large land army, who will supplement their own forces and provide protection for Elena in the form of Yassen, former Arohassin assassin, and now looking for a quiet life. And, in the shadows, King Leo is hunting the Prophet, burning suspects until he finds the one that the fire won’t hurt.

The royal family only agree to Yassen’s presence to keep a close eye on him, and Elena plans on burning him as soon as she can, but as the two get to know one another they find they have more in common than they believed, and you can tell from the start that Verma has a romance planned for them. I was quite happy with that, and enjoyed watching their relationship develop, and could have even done with more romance than the book had. But apart from Yassen, Elena has Ferma, her Yumi bodyguard whose hair can turn into sharp tendrils and cut through anything, and Elena herself is far from defenceless. I really liked the way the female protagonist could hold her own, and it was a nice change to have a reckless young woman who was nevertheless competent, and didn’t need others to fix her mistakes.

‘To be forgiven, one must be burned.’

However, Elena still can’t hold fire, and she needs to learn by the time of her Coronation Day, and when her father refuses to teach her, she searches the palace library (a secret library, may I add, with multiple secret passages!) and finds a scroll bearing her mother’s initials, which has illustrated forms for wielding fire. Elena’s mother is another mystery running through the novel, and the way she died and what she was looking into at the time was very intriguing.

I think Yassen was my favourite character, but it’s hard to choose because Verna put an incredible amount of work into each of her characters, even the side ones, but I think Yassen was still the most well-rounded and realistic of them all – his backstory was the most interesting, and his inner conflict drove his chapter on. Despite being the most skilled assassin in his organisation, most of the time I feel like Yassen just needed a hug, but I also liked the fact that despite losing the use of one of his arms, Yassen is never treated by the story as useless – some of the characters see him as such, and he occasionally thinks of himself that way too, but the narrative never makes it a big thing. I would probably say he’s the central protagonist, despite there being two other points of view, because he drives the start of the plot and is the one connecting a lot of the narrative threads.

‘If a man was just a tapestry of the characters he donned, then his was the most unusual of all.’

I found that overall this was a fresh and exciting debut, and while I thought I knew where the end was heading, there was a plot twist that I certainly didn’t see coming, and Aparna Verna made me put the book down and stare at the wall for a bit, and I don’t do that very often, so thank you for that experience! I highly recommend this to anyone who reads SFF, and I cannot wait for the next book, because how could you just leave it like that?? (I’m fine, why do you ask?)

ALSO! If you go to the author’s website, you can see some amazing artwork for the setting and the characters, and I hope it’s okay that I share one of the pieces, because this is was caught my eye and made me decide to request the book on NetGalley, and it’s also fantastic and the artist deserves their work shown off! You can find the artist here on instagram, and I’d recommend scrolling through some of their stuff.

Book Info

Published: 31st August 2021 by New Degree Press
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Series: The Ravence Trilogy, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple points of view
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: violence, burning, grief

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