I love discovering hidden gems on Goodreads. It has got to be a top-five all-time emotional rush. This is how I stumbled upon The Boy with Fire by Aparna Verma, one of the best books I’ve found organically in a long time. Complete with an original story, compelling characters, and a devastatingly gorgeous setting, The Boy With Fire delivers.
The Kingdom of Ravence is ushering in a new era. King Leo is doing all he can to ensure the kingdom’s borders are secure before he passes his reign to his daughter, Elena. His plans involve securing an alliance with Samson Kytuu, a military leader from Sayon, and enlisting the help of an infamous assassin, Yassen Knight, to protect his daughter while the country is on the edge of chaos. Elena has been preparing for this moment her entire life and is more than capable of ruling. However, she has not unlocked the secret to holding fire as her father had, and the ability is crucial to appeasing her people and their god, the Phoenix.
The book follows Leo, the king of Ravence; his daughter Elena, the soon-to-be queen; and Yassen, a former assassin serving the kingdom of Ravence in hopes of receiving a pardon. Right from the beginning, I was happy to see that the POVs were split this way instead of dividing it between Elena, Yassen, and Elena’s betrothed which gives off major love triangle vibes. Verma instead pulls you into the king’s world and it complemented Elena’s story so well. It was refreshing to see the parent-child dynamic take center stage. Verma eschewed common POVs like a romantic interest or best friend and gave the story a deeper level of love and desperation that can only come from a parent. Both Leo and Elena have pressures and expectations of the kingdom, but each character is handling it a different way. I loved seeing how their generational differences and experiences influence them. Yassen was an interesting POV, but we get so very little of him. Yassen is elusive, traumatized, expertly trained in the ways of combat, and dealing with a horrific burn injury. I, of course, couldn’t help but fall in love with this brooding mysterious character, but if you know me at all this is to be expected.
Verma takes her time setting up the world of Ravence and getting the characters established, which she does beautifully. This plot is a super slow burn. The “major stuff,” as academics would call it, didn’t hit until after the 60% mark. The rest of the plot picks up from there, and the events build up to a cliffhanger ending. Verma also managed to twist her true intentions and surprise me with a reveal not once, but twice. Both reveals completely blindsided me, and it was such a delight. It has been a very long time since I have experienced genuine shock when reading. Verma is a master trickster, too. There were several times I thought she was being beyond obvious. Nope. The formula does not apply to The Boy With Fire.
Verma doesn’t spell everything out for the reader in terms of character relationships. You have to make the connections yourself, which can sometimes feel like an undue burden on the reader. I overanalyzed the vagueness around the character’s emotions, and it added to the overall excitement of the book and played into the twists as well. Leo very much cares for Elena, and Elena is open with her affection for her guard, Ferma. However, outside of these two relationships, the glances, actions, and conversations are up to the reader to decipher. It was a nice change of pace not having people blatantly pining for others or having a clear idea of where loyalties fell. The characters stayed focused on what they believed was their duty and let the intricacies of relationships play out off the page.
Please don’t sleep on this book. The world is exciting, the characters are fresh, and there is a whole religious element that I can’t even get to in this limited space. I only wish the story provided more on-the-page details to explore the complicated and diverse relationships at play. Even though I sit here craving more emotional damage, The Boy With Fire will not disappoint. It was an incredible find and you should keep Aparna Verma on your radar.
Rating: The Boy With Fire – 7.5/10