Hey everyone! Can we all get a big hell yeah for my first book review of 2020?
This book was actually a leftover from 2019. I’d started reading it – like a massive idiot – the last week of December, when I knew I’d be busy with New Year’s Eve preparations. As a result, I entered 2020 with an unfinished book. 😅
Still, I’m thankful I did, because it ended up also being my first five-star of the year! Now read on to find out what I enjoyed so much about this book.
Author: Rosaria Munda
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Political Fiction
Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.
Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.
But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.
With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.
Content Warnings: Graphic injury, violence, death, imprisonment, starvation, beheading of animals, bullying, classism, loss of family, war
☕ Quotes ☕
“Bring what fury you have and I will answer it with ours.”
“They watch us kneel, they see the back of our heads, and they think we’ve given in. They don’t realize you can think from your knees just as well as from your feet.”
“‘I’ll serve the state better by bettering myself. One step at a time. I can make history one step at a time.”
“And as with gods the world quaked, to see them fireborne.”
☕ Plot ☕
Listen, when a book is described as having elements of Plato’s Republic, you put a stop to whatever you’re doing, pick it up, and read it – no questions asked.
I’m a political science major. I took up Republic in my third year of university, when I was only 18 years old. I really wish this book had existed back then because not only would I have enjoyed the book on its own merit, it also would have made Republic a lot easier to relate to.
Fireborne is the story of a city post-revolution. Callipolis has overthrown its ruling class, the dragonlords, the only ones allowed to ride and train dragons. In its place, a more equitable, merit-based society has been erected. In the new regime, the metals test is administered to every citizen. Iron class are the unskilled labourers, Bronze are the skilled labourers, Silver are the combatants like soldiers and policemen, and Golds are the leaders and academicians. The rarest of all are the Silver-Golds, the Guardians selected to train and eventually become dragonriders.
Two of these dragonriders, Annie and Lee, are as different as possible. Although they both grew up in an orphanage, rendered parentless by the revolution, their backgrounds are complete and total opposites: Annie’s parents were murdered by dragonfire, and Lee is the son of a dragonlord, rescued from the revolution by the actions of a sympathetic soldier. They grow up to be the closest of friends, and the bitterest of rivals, eventually ending up pitched against each other in competition to be Firstrider, the commander of Callipolis’s dragon fleet.
Fireborne isn’t just a great political drama – it’s also a wonderful example of the inescapable debate of nature versus nurture, with dragons at the crux of it. One of the most central themes of this book is how Annie and Lee are thrown against each other at every turn. They’re easily the most talented fighters and fliers in the current crop of Guardians, and yet everything that the dragonlords believed in states the Lee should triumph over her by sheer dint of his supposedly superior lineage. In terms of skill in fighting, flying, and rhetoric, Lee does seem superior; but Annie has her own strengths that Lee can’t comprehend: love for the people, determination, trust in her own judgment. In the end, we’re shown that neither of them is inherently stronger than the other, and it’s the complementary blend of their skills that make them such great leaders.
One of the things I most appreciated about this book was how it portrayed a supposedly egalitarian society. Yes, the metals test now exists. Yes, there are safeguards to make sure that irons and bronzes aren’t abused by their bosses. But sometimes, those safeguards are circumvented. And even when poorer, less privileged people test into Silver and Gold, they’re still looked down upon by their fellows who come from wealthier families. I also adored the commentary on how richer people who have the means to send their kids to school more often test into Silver and Gold, as compared to the poorer people who can’t afford prestigious schooling, which then leads their kids to testing into Iron and Bronze. In my opinion, it’s a pretty scathing condemnation of modern day society, where we’re all supposedly equal yet things like class still contribute a great deal to what we accomplish in life.
☕ Writing ☕
This is probably the umpteenth time I’ve mentioned this in relation to a book, but I positively adored the world-building. The city of Callipolis draws heavily from both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome – you know, if Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had dragons.
I especially liked the emphasis on how the classics such as The Aurelian Cycle influence modern-day society, mostly because that really was how societies back then operated. The emphasis not just on military prowess, but knowledge of poetry and art as well, were actual expectations from leaders of that age, and that emphasis made this new regime feel realistic.
One thing I truly appreciated in the world-building was the inclusion of propaganda. No regime, no matter how benevolent, can survive without it. Most fantasy tends to ignore the role propaganda plays in any uprising, but this book doesn’t shy away from it at all. Not only does it depict propaganda being disseminated amongst the Bronzes and the Irons, it now calls to question – even when done for supposedly morally upright reasons, can you excuse lying to your citizenry and still call yourself an egalitarian society?
My one critique for this book is that I wish with my whole heart that it was Adult or New Adult instead of Young Adult. For one thing, the characters coming of age and becoming military commanders and such at the age of 17 don’t make sense to me, considering this is most decidedly not a dystopian society. Additionally, I would have loved if the book could have explored some of the darker themes more thoroughly, in particular classism, the treatment of prisoners of war, and the treatment of civilians during war.
☕ Characters ☕
Y’all. The characters in this book are amazing. Rosaria is amazing at writing chemistry, which I felt throughout the entire book between Lee and Annie. Every moment where they looked at each other and felt a spark of something, I wanted to scream. I shipped them so much y’all, and I literally can’t remember the last time I felt this way for a relationship that was not a romance book.
The juxtaposition between Annie and Lee was so beautifully written. They are the perfect leader and second-in-command – although who occupies which position, I’ll leave you to find out by reading the book. 😉 The friends to rivals to lovers is so magnificently done, and Rosaria really manages to capture the emotion and struggles the two face as they try to get what they want.
Of all the Guardians, however, I’d have to say my favourite character is Crissa. When I read that she was interested in Lee as well, I was afraid that she’d be turned into the stereotypical “rival for the male lead’s affections” – ignorant, dumb, mean, etc. Instead, not only do she and Annie talk things out (with Crissa even calling Annie out on something unnecessarily nasty that she says), she also remains very much her own character. She’s a well-respected squadron leader, a skilled dragonrider, has a talent for rhetoric and speech, and makes attempts to befriend and include Annie. In this house, we stan a traditionally feminine character who has depth and strength.
☕ Overall ☕
The amazing thing about Fireborne is that it dares to ask this question: What happens when the revolution succeeds? What happens when the oppressive kings are overthrown? And it dares to wonder, might it actually not be all that different? This book was an amazing read from start to finish and I’m so glad I picked it up! If political drama plus dragons is your thing, definitely give Fireborne a try!
☕ Have you read Fireborne? What do you think?
☕ What are your favourite books featuring dragons?
☕ Are you into books that are heavy on political strategy and/or intrigue?