Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 2nd 2019
You'll be burning to read this
As I have mentioned in the past, I am reading a lot of independent writing of late. The self-published market is growing and, thanks to social media, I am finding many works to sink my teeth into. (I should note that I don't do self-publishing; I prefer to go the traditional route for many and varied reasons.)
Anyway, I think I've reviewed maybe half a dozen self-published indy books this year on Weekend Notes, but I have read so many more than that. I'm afraid, because of a lack of checks and balances, I find self-published books more miss than hit. So when I read one that's decent, I am more than happy to proclaim it to the world. (Please remember, I will only review something I like; if I don't like it, then it's not up to me to tell you what to dislike, but if I do like it, then I am more than happy to steer you in that direction.)
The book I recently finished is Her Crown Of Fire by Renee April.
First and foremost, I need to state that I am not the target audience for this work. It is firmly in the Young Adult market, fantasy genre. That being said, I am used to reading YA books; when I was a teacher, I read a lot of them so I knew what my students were reading and getting into, so I think I can approach this with an eye that is slightly less adult.
This book drew me in for one main reason the main character of Rose Evermore is a compelling one. Well thought out and believable (for the most part), she is the sort of protagonist that the teenaged readers will be able to get behind. Her problems, at the start, are those many younger people can relate to, and when the fantasy element kicks in, there are still standard teenaged issues dealt with.
So, as is my won't, I'm going to start with the negatives. On a technical side, there are a few punctuation errors and that's about it. Technically, it is one of the better indy books I have come across. On the story front, there is more than a little of the Harry Potter about it. Yes, I know it involves portals and stuff like that, but that school for magic motif is still most definitely there, along with someone who does not know about it being forced to live it. And the idea of human blood rings of Muggle; Rose is almost the Hermione, but the tale is being told through her eyes. Also, there were points where Rose seemed to adapt to her new surrounds way too easily, and she only seemed to be missing her friend Tyson, not her home. This felt a little off at times as well.
However, much like The Teacher's Piano, my biggest issue with the book is the use of present tense. As I said in that review, this is something that is becoming more and more common and it does not fit the book. Present speaks of immediacy, and that is not a fantasy book. I will say again that I am not a fan of stories told in the present tense, but it's a modern writing trend. Unfortunately, there were many times when this pulled me out of the story, and it also resulted in some awkward passages of writing.
Now, this is where the positives start. As I mentioned a little earlier, the character of Rose was what drew me in. Without that strong female character dragging me along, I would have given up on it, and I am glad I didn't. April has created a world that is believable and almost relatable, despite the fantasy setting. She has peopled it with characters who react naturally. And the fact that the townsfolk hide Tyson speaks of a rather subtle uprising in the air that extends beyond the main factions spoken of in the narrative.
That is something else unlike many fantasy works, the "normal" people are explored. We see the magic school and its headmasters lording over everything, but there is little respect for them the people who live outside the walls eke a living as best they can. We have empathy with them, not just sympathy for them because we can see their lives. It is a great metaphor for tiers of schooling and education levels and privilege in our society, without beating the reader over the head with it.
Quick synopsis: Rose is a normal kid living in Australia in her last year of high school. She discovers she has control over fire, and then, suddenly, finds herself in another world where she is forced to attend a magic school. There is rebellion, there is upcoming war, there is death, and in the middle of it all, Rose and her best friend Tyson (who is not magic and would be killed if found by the lords) have to survive and cope. To give anything else would be entering spoiler territory, but I hope that is enough to whet your appetite, to give this a go.
While this story is apparently the first book in a series, it did work well as a stand-alone book. There was an ending Rose and Tyson get home. However, there were several unanswered questions, about the rebellion fermenting, about Soul-Mates (what happens to Rose's now she's returned?), about the affection between Tyson and his mage 'girlfriend', which leaves it open for a sequel without diminishing the first book as a work on its own. Will I get the next book? Not sure; when my daughter is a little older, I'll let her read this and if she likes it, I'll get her the series. It's certainly not for me! (That's not a slight against the book; I am a nearly 50-year-old adult male who writes horror; I am so not this book's demographic!)
Another thing I liked about the book was that once they were in Lotheria, the action did not really let up. There was always something happening, either action or intrigue or relationship. That sort of writing does really help bring the reader along for the ride.
So, look, if you've got a teenaged reader wanting something in the fantasy realm, this would be a fine Christmas gift, or just a gift in general, really. Young Adult fantasy is a growing market, and I think Renee April has set herself to be a part of that for some time to come.