Title: Furyborn (2018)
Author: Claire Legrand
Read: 1st – 5th June 2019
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first. One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable―until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart 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.” (Synopsis from the trilogy’s website)
Furyborn is an epic and ambitious opening to a fantasy trilogy which spans the lives of two young women separated by a millennium but undoubtedly bound by their fates. The legend of the Sun and Blood Queens has long been prophesied in this world and Furyborn is the setup of a trilogy which will undoubtedly explore what it means to be idolised in such a position of power and the effects this has on the choices you make as an individual. The societies which these women inhabit are very different and it is through the alternating of POVs between the two women in a dual narrative style that allows readers to begin to piece together what must have happened in one society to lead to the other. It is unflinching in its exploration of darker themes and topics and although Furyborn has the feel of a YA fantasy and will definitely appeal to readers of YA, I think it errs on the more mature end of that spectrum, purely for some of the more difficult and visceral topics which are confronted during the course of the book.
“We live in a world where good kings die and those foolish enough to hope for something better are killed where they stand.”
As is often the case in dual POV stories, I think I preferred one to the other. Rielle’s story is clearly set in a chivalric fantasy court setting, concerns the power plays between noble houses, and is dominated by her powers being tested in a series of elemental magic challenges – this was always going to be the storyline I preferred to read about, and I think just even how much of this review I plan to devote to Rielle’s storyline shows this. However, having now read the book twice (once in ARC form and once as a finished copy), I can appreciate Eliana’s story arc a lot more too; from her initial role as the infamous Dread of Orline, a morally grey assassin-for-hire, she grows as a character when she is forced to confront the very real effects on the most needy of society who are beaten down continuously by the Undying Empire for whom she is a mercenary. The presence of rebellious factions such as Simon and his particular morality undoubtedly helps to shape Eliana’s arc and to make her a more sympathetic character for readers to root for – her cute younger brother Remy also helps with this.
” ‘People like us don’t fight for our own hope,’ he said quietly. ‘We fight for everyone else’s.’ “
I like my dark, seductive characters and ships so it’s no surprise that the insidious presence of Corien, an angel who whispers in Rielle’s mind, is one which made me enjoy the novel even more. We see Rielle in the opening prologue saying that he is coming for her, and she fears this, so it is written from the start that he is dubious (at best) and malcontent. The secret relationship that builds between Rielle and Corien as they communicate mentally, a relationship which she becomes afraid of revealing to those around her, is an intriguing part of Furyborn that readers know from this very beginning of the book will prove to be something of Rielle’s downfall – that doesn’t make the two of them being drawn together any less fun to read about though. Similarly, the obvious sexual tension between Rielle and Prince Audric gives me life, as does the shrewd understanding of their closeness from their friend Ludivine, the woman who is promised to marry Audric in order to unite their houses. Any kind of doomed and entangled ship is just the sort that I fall for every single time. It helps that Audric is pretty much my definition of a character I will root for because he is just so wonderfully loyal and precious that I want to wrap him in cotton wool and not let anyone hurt him.
” ‘We all have darkness inside us, Rielle,’ he said, his voice rough. ‘That is what it means to be human.’ “
I love that this book doesn’t shy away from exploring tricky topics which aren’t necessarily addressed in your typical fantasy. Menstruation, masturbation, and consent are all discussed openly in the course of this narrative and that shouldn’t be revolutionary but somehow feels it. It helps ground an otherwise extraordinarily fantastical storyline through very normal topics that are no less relevant just because a society happens to feature winged horses or angels alongside humans. On a similar note, Furyborn takes the time to unpack the effects of hard-hitting subjects such as torture and mutilation; it doesn’t shy away from presenting these in the dangerous society Eliana inhabits, atrocities that are often not seen as such purely because it is people in positions of power and authority who are perpetrating them. Encouraging the scrutiny of such a line of thinking isn’t a bad thing for a story to suggest to its readers, especially in the current political climate of quite a few established nations of the world today.
“Perhaps if nothing else, what’s happened has taught you that there is more to life – and even to war – than simply staying alive.“
In conclusion, Furyborn is a complex and compelling fantasy opener that promises great things for the two following books that will come to complete Claire Legrand’s Empirium trilogy. A story chock full of court intrigue and politics, elemental magic and tournaments, assassinations and infiltrations, and angelic and monstrous creatures, Furyborn explores the idea of the ‘strong female character’ in all its guises and, through beginning with a prologue which shows the eventual and inevitable ‘fall’ to ‘evil’ of a once-beloved character, it challenges the simplistic notion of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ figures and the legends or histories which come to surround them.
“Some say the Queen was frightened in her last moments. But I like to think that she was angry.”