Hi friends! Last year I read and loved Nina Varela’s debut, Crier’s War, and this year I’m so excited to be a stop on the blog tour for the second book in the duology, Iron Heart. This blog tour is organized by Caffeine Tours and I’m so glad I was selected to participate. I mean, honestly, is there anything I love more than shouting about queer YA books?! Before I get to my review, read on for more information about the book, and a synopsis!
AUTHOR: Nina Varela
COVER ARTIST: David Curtis
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance
RELEASE: September 8, 2020
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
The human resistance is rising, preparing to fight back against the rule of the Automae over Rabu. Ayla, a handmaiden, had been determined to kill Lady Crier, but instead fell in love with her. Having fled the palace, Ayla takes refuge with the infamous Queen Junn, where she begins to plot to destroy the Iron Heart–the mine that produces heartstone, the lifeforce for all Automae. But as Ayla seeks out the Iron Heart, she cannot help but feel the pull between her and Crier, even as she longs to forget the feelings between them. What Ayla doesn’t know: Crier, too, has fled the palace and has set out on a journey of her own. As their paths draw closer and closer, Ayla and Crier will uncover dark secrets about the Iron Heart that will change Rabu forever.
Iron Heart is a satisfying conclusion to the Crier’s War duology that proved to be well worth the wait. Readers will definitely need to read the first novel before delving into this one, but I promise, it’s worth it. Iron Heart carries some of the same themes of Crier’s War, like queer love, class, rebellion, resistance, but is very different in many ways. The reader follows Crier and Ayla as they set out on their respective journeys, and honestly the whole time, I was crossing my fingers for these two girls to reunite and get on with the kissing! It takes a skilled writer to create a compelling, swoon-worthy romance when two characters are apart from each other, and Nina Varela absolutely does just that.
While the love story is definitely still there, a lot of this novel centers around resistance and rebellion. This duology touches upon class, power, and oppression. Iron Heart dives deeper into this struggle between the humans and Automae, and we get to learn more about the rebellion and the people behind it. In the first book, we were introduced to Kinok, Crier’s husband-to-be and leader of the Anti-Relliance Movement (ARM), which encourages Automae society to stop relying on the Iron Heart as its source for heartstone. In Iron Heart, we learn more about ARM and Kinok’s sinister plans that lie beneath its surface. I loved learning more about heartstone and the Iron Heart, and thought Nina Varela did a great job of developing this storyline. Without giving too much away, I’ll simply say that this book is full of chilling twists that had me unable to put it down.
Much like Crier’s War, Iron Heart is centered around Ayla and Crier. It’s delightful revisiting these two characters, and they’re just as compelling as they were the first time around. But I love that Iron Heart also allows these two girls to grow and change. Ayla and Crier are both on their own journeys throughout the novel and it’s rich with character growth and development. I especially adored Crier even more than I had in the first book, and loved how she came into her own in this conclusion to the duology. There are some other familiar characters readers will recognize, and I especially enjoyed getting more of Queen Junn!
Nina Varela’s writing makes this a super entertaining, quick-paced read–as someone who struggles to read fantasy at times (I normally prefer it in audio format), I was immediately immersed in this story and absolutely could not put it down. She does a superb job at integrating a complex story full of character development with an easy-to-follow narrative. The pacing is spot-on, hooking the reader from the very beginning. I love that the plotline of Iron Heart explored more of Ayla’s family history–of which we got a taste in Crier’s War. Since this one takes place primarily outside of the castle we grew familiar with in the first book, we also get to see more world building and different sides of Automae culture.
As a queer woman, this is the kind of book I love. The kind I wish I’d had when I was a teen. The kind I now, as a teen services librarian, will do everything I can to make sure it finds its readers. Iron Heart, much like Crier’s War is a fantasy and science fiction novel, but above all else, it’s a queer love story. It’s a story of two girls loving each other deeply, learning what to do with that love, and fighting for it. My absolute favorite thing about this series is that it is never Ayla and Crier’s queerness that makes their relationship forbidden, but rather that one is human and one is Automae. It’s incredibly refreshing to read a queer love story in which the “problem” of the story is not rooted in anti-queerness.
Ultimately, Iron Heart is the perfect end to this YA duology. It’s rich with world building, character development, and plot with a satisfying wrap-up. While different from Crier’s War in its plot and pacing, Iron Heart takes everything that readers love about the first novel and builds upon it beautifully. You can bet I’ll be purchasing a copy for my library’s collection and hyping this duology up to my Teen Book Club. If you read and loved Crier’s War, I promise you won’t be disappointed with this conclusion. If you’re new to the series, it’s absolutely worth starting. I’ll be recommending this to fans of We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, and Mirage by Somaiya Daud. This sci-fi fantasy novel carries the love story my queer heart needed and its conclusion is everything I wanted.
Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour! See the schedule above or check it out here.
Thank you to Caffeine Tours and HarperTeen for the digital review copy, and for including me on this tour!