book review: furyborn

Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Sourcebooks Fire, 512 pp.
Published May 22, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free physical ARC of this book from Sourcebooks Fire via BookishFirst for review purposes. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed...unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable--until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire 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.

At 500 pages and counting, Furyborn was a novel I'd hoped to draw out over several days and take my time with. After a riveting first chapter, however, those plans evaporated. I finished this in one day. Even with books I love—and I loved Furyborn—I can usually find one or two points that might not appeal to other readers and tuck them into my reviews. In this instance, though, I genuinely struggled trying to pick out any stumbling blocks. Rather than continue nitpicking, instead I'll list out some of the reasons why I hope you'll love Claire Legrand's newest book as much as I did:


Rielle and Eliana comprise two perfectly complimentary narratives. Both are firebrands, assertive and fiercely independent with a strong sense of loyalty. Where Rielle struggles to hide an identity painfully obvious to her from a young age, Eliana expends an equal amount of energy masking her true self until she cannot recognize the girl behind the facade. Their personal battles enhance one another as the novel progresses, reinforcing a strong theme of identity as one seeks it out and the other denies what she must to survive. These women are allowed to feel hatred and lust, to behave hypocritically and make mistakes. In short, they're human. At times they felt painfully real, so much simmering beneath the surface of thoughts and actions that they seemed truly unpredictable, which made both Reille and Eliana a delight to read.


An explosive first chapter sets Furyborn's tone early: bloody and vicious, emotional and grand, from the outset you know you've begun something special. Legrand writes with a lush but grounded style. We only glimpse a bedroom and balcony in the prologue, yet we also meet angels and witness magical abilities with chilling implications. How these elements intertwine and influence Celdaria is revealed in tantalizing snippets. Legrand avoids the dry lecture of exposition by trusting her readers, introducing them to the history, religion, magic, and mythology of her world organically. Not a single dull moment exists; the timelines interplay with a comfortable ebb and flow, but when both barrel ahead at the same time it's impossible to step away.


I am a sucker for using angels in stories. His Dark Materials? Paradise Lost?  The Time Quintet? All fantasy literature that features angelic beings as complicated characters with motives and urges more akin to man than God. The image of a divine servant conjures up a powerful conflict: how can someone with so much power find true contentment in subservience? As in the stories listed above, the angels in Furyborn take multiple forms, ally themselves on opposing sides of a conflict, and undertake the kind of schemes more closely associated with Greek gods than Christian theology. It might be one of my soft spots, but their appearance was one of my favorite parts of Furyborn.


What those in Eliana's world regard as legend unfolds as fact in Rielle's. Though the passage of time distorts facts and embellishes details, it's delightfully jarring to hear events we've just read discussed as baseless myth in the future timeline. Separated by a millennium, there aren't really any opportunities to confuse one narrative for another as you're reading. That doesn't preclude any connection whatsoever between them, though. Ties both plain and more esoteric link the two and, although we know Rielle's general fate quite early, the muddling of rumor and reality over the intervening years only heightens the suspense over how her story arrived at that end.


In both timelines, no less! By the end of Furyborn both protagonists have romantic interests. Are you a fan of unrequited, lifelong affection? It's there. The friends-to-enemies trope? It's there too! What about dark and sensual temptations of power? Bingo, you're also covered! Like the characters involved in them, these relationships develop with all the messiness inherent to life. Complications, miscommunications, and confused feelings all conspire to draw out their development. Furyborn is also a sex-positive novel: Rielle and Eliana both exercise their sexuality without any sort of omniscient condemnation. In the handful of sexual scenes, consent and enthusiasm are always stressed as the most important elements rather than love, marriage, or duty.


The empirium is reminiscent of Dust, in form and mysticism if not its actual purpose. Star Wars fans might liken it to the Force instead: a power coursing through the world that can be sensed, channeled, and manipulated to the user's will. As the first book in a new trilogy, Furyborn doesn't delve too deeply into the arcane details of the empirium. Instead it introduces enough of its scope and power to promise that it will play a significant and tantalizing role in the sequels to come.

I've made reference to the series several times now, and although I try my hardest to avoid comparing books to one another in a review, I just cannot help but see a lot of positive correlations between Furyborn and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Some are more surificial commonalities, but what really captured my attention was a similarity in spirit. Both concern themselves with identity and freedom, while never shying away from the very personal impacts these pursuits can have on those who choose to follow them to the end. Where His Dark Materials had a certain snowy softness to it, Furyborn replaces it with flame and metallic edges. The expansive scale of time and mythology bestows a grandeur on Furyborn that promises greater—and darker—developments in the sequels to come. Claire Legrand has something superb on her hands and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!


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