When I read Fireborne, my first thought upon completing it was, “Finally! An actually good book!”
I have read a lot of recent YA that I thought was good, but nothing particularly special until now. Fireborne by Rosaria Munda contained a great mix of action, world-building, character development, political intrigue, and a female heroine I didn’t despise. And, of course, dragons.
Fireborne is told in a dual-perspective narrative featuring Lee, a serious boy with a dangerous past and a heritage that could get him killed, and Antigone, a former serf who has risen to the status of dragonrider under the mandates of a new regime, though she still battles discrimination from patricians who dislike the idea of peasants bonding with dragons.
After a bloody revolution has destroyed the rule of the royal and ruthless dragonborn, the citizens of Callipolis have enjoyed a time of peace. New dragonriders have been chosen from both upper and lower class, dismantling the old mandates that only allowed the royal dragonborn to possess dragons. Now the dragonriders are competing for the coveted role of Firstrider, primary leader of all the dragonriders.
Lee and Antigone are the top contenders for the role. Thrown together from an early age, each suffers from a tragic past that at once unifies and divides them. But when an old threat rises from the ashes of the revolution, they must come together to face the threat, or the new regime will be overthrown by dragonborn bent on vengeance.
There was a bit of romance in this book, but it wasn’t the main focus of the story. There were a couple of intimate moments as well, but most were more implied rather than shown, which was a pleasant change from the norm. Likewise, while there was a lot of violence, it was surprisingly underwritten, again, more implied rather than explicit and thus, didn’t overwhelm the story. Overall, this was an excellent book with a wonderful setting and really lovely writing, and two main characters I actually liked. It reminded me a bit of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books (I think the telepathic connection the characters had to their dragons was the inciting reason behind that comparison). Aside from what I’ve mentioned above, this was a refreshing YA book, and I really hope the author continues in this vein for the remainder of her trilogy, because I would love to be able to own these in the future.
Review of an Advance Reading Copy
This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Profanity/Language: 2 religious exclamations; 15 mild obscenities; 6 derogatory names; 7 scatological words; 4 anatomical terms.
Violence/Gore: Many instances of violence and gore, including but not limited to: a character has flashbacks and nightmares to a bloody revolution involving violent slaughter of family members; description of a child with a bloody face; a girl is belittled because of her gender and former status; a boy frequently mocks others; characters discuss an unlikely war; description of a “spillover,” where dragons feed off their riders’ emotions; a character deliberately wounds another during a competition; characters discuss a day of slaughter and fear a new regime to be worse than the old; report of characters executed by dragonfire; report of a family murdered for not fulfilling a food quota; characters spar, and an enraged character deliberately lands hard blows; a character refuses to join a conspiracy; a boy imagines doing violence to another boy; characters talk about the day their families were killed; family members argue; a girl gets burned during a dragon match; characters are attacked; in a match, characters score hits against each other with burning blasts of dragon smoke; a woman spits in a girl’s face; characters argue and exchange threats; a character recognizes people who betrayed his family; two girls have a verbal altercation and exchange harsh words; characters are goaded in class, and a teacher loses his temper at a student and throws an eraser at the boy’s head; report of a character being held and beaten by others; in an extended scene, a character has a spillover and his dragon “sparks,” breathing fire for the first time at a contestant and seriously injuring her; a girl wakes in pain and recalls how she sustained her injuries; characters read explicit materials detailing the deaths of a royal family, discuss the violence and argue their thoughts on it; report of trade ships attacked in an air raid and the threat of famine; characters are ordered to forcibly collect food in order to ration it throughout the city; a character is hurt to guarantee compliance among villagers; characters are confrontational about the unfair method of rationing; a girl describes her family to a boy and shows him the place where they died; a boy briefly mentions being made to watch his family’s murder; characters are attacked, and one is bound and beaten by another; a character threatens others with a court-martial; a boy is ordered to kill a family member in order to prove his loyalty; two dragonriders battle, a character is burned, and one character hits another with a clean kill shot of dragonfire; a boy is taken to an infirmary and his wounds are treated.
Sex/Nudity: Many instances of sex and nudity, including but not limited to the following: characters are frequently reported having feelings for another; boys and girls occasionally “strip” in the same room while arming for combat, and the boys are usually described as looking away, though in one instance there is mention of a boy catching flashes of skin (not overly sexual); two boys sit together in a remote table in a restaurant (implied homosexual relationship, not overt); a few instances where or a girl touches a boy’s hand, or a boy touches a girl’s hand; a boy has thoughts about how he and a girl have recently emerged from separate baths; a boy checks a girl’s armor, and she is conscious of his touch and his smell, and feels hot; a girl is questioned about a man’s behavior toward female students; characters practice a waltz, and a girl is very aware of the boy’s hand on her back; two boys walk together; a boy and a girl dance, and the boy is very conscious of how the girl feels in his arms; a boy and girl hold hands under a table; a girl dances with many boys at a ball; a boy and girl almost kiss; a boy and girl lie together, kissing and holding each other; a girl sees a boy wrapped in another girl’s embrace; a boy lays on a girl’s bed, and she lays with him (not overly sexual, but fairly intimate); a girl jokingly asks a boy if they are having a tryst; a boy comforts a girl, tucks her into bed and lays with her, but lays on top of the blankets while she is underneath; a girl holds a boy and the boy lowers his face into her neck; a boy and girl sit together under a blanket, they exchange kisses that start out gently and gradually become more impassioned, they touch and caress, and the boy falls back while the girl stands between his legs and they continue to kiss (not overly sexual, they remain clothed).
Mature Subject Matter:
Gender discrimination; socioeconomic discrimination; death of family members; murder; threat of war; abandonment; child abuse; gender/sex identity issues; censorship.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Characters drink summer wine; characters refill their goblets; characters give toasts; characters toast a day of revolution; a boy goes to a tavern; a boy drinks cider; a character recalls having drinks; a girl is given her first whiskey; characters drink wine at a celebration; a boy drinks wine; characters carry a wounded champion to a tavern to celebrate; a boy drains a glass of wine; characters pass around a wineskin.