It’s books like Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto that rekindle my love for YA. Over the years I have been worn down after reading many lackluster books in the category, but this one is a bright spark that deserves attention. It’s a unique story that is well-written, has a fully developed world that wasn’t delivered via info dumping, and is led by characters with actual depth.
Queen Avalkyra Ashfire and her famed Phoenix Riders took to the skies in a blaze to rebel against the kingdom that failed her. The result was a bloody war that put riders and their magnificent phoenixes on the edge of extinction and began the persecution of animages. This gifted group of people goes into hiding lest their ability to communicate with animals earns them a criminal offense and forced service for the empire. Animages are feared and controlled because they are the only ones who can bond with the legendary phoenixes, transforming the individuals into the fierce Phoenix Riders that almost took down the reigning powers. Veronyka and her sister Val are two of many animages hiding in plain sight, but they have big plans to resurrect phoenixes of their own. But when Val ruins the trust shared between the sisters, Veronyka decides to find a home among other Phoenix Riders, even if it means disguising herself as a boy.
Crown of Feathers has been on my TBR since 2019, and it sat there for years because I never heard anyone talk about it. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes (yeah, I said it), this book unearthed itself from my dusty TBR pile. Everyone is missing out if they don’t pick up this story. There are giant fire birds dive bombing enemies from the sky. Do you know how cool that is? If I can’t lure you in with gorgeous phoenixes or the cool magic system, I will win you over with the characters because they are a force all on their own. No one is special in this book. Our protagonists all have magic but their strength lies in the unique qualities they possess and how they use certain abilities to uncover their place in this broken world. In the extended time it took me to pull this book off my shelf, Preto has finished the series, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes. I hope you’ll join me and give this story some much-deserved hype.
Preto deserves a lot of praise for the worldbuilding in this book. Not only does she expertly build the world around us as we move between the POVs, but she also broke up the chapters with letters, lore, and cultural references that actually mattered. Do you know how often I try to treasure this supplemental information in books only for it to be a nothingburger? Preto once again stands out from the rest by making these small interludes count. Every single piece of information that is shared in these moments has a purpose and honestly, I found the insights more enriching than the discoveries made by our characters. There is a lot of variety in the type of content that is shared, too, ranging from songs to folktales to historical accounts to heartbreaking confessions. These additions made the world that much more tangible, and it gives our characters an incredibly vast setting to interact in.
I spent a lot of time trying to find an explanation as to why this book fell under the radar. Eventually, I came to a conclusion, and despite fiery phoenixes gracing its pages, Crown of Feathers is not flashy. It doesn’t have a burning romance that will make you stay up till all hours of the night. It doesn’t have a typical fierce heroine who is blazing a path toward her destiny. It doesn’t follow the same formulas that hundreds of other YA stories employ to be fast and dirty reads. Instead, Preto lovingly crafts this story and takes time to envelop us in a descriptive world while encouraging us to grow alongside three strong protagonists. Book one of this series is all about laying the foundation which isn’t sexy but it’s important. The work done on the front end is going to give Preto a lot of room to play with in the later books. Crown of Feathers does start off strong and has some pretty epic moments to capture your attention, but it quiets down a lot after the initial inciting incidents that push the plot into motion. It’s a lovely, cozy read doused with hope, which makes it easy to be overshadowed by its louder and edgier counterparts.
Nicki Pau Preto doesn’t rely on gimmicks, and she doesn’t take any shortcuts. Crown of Feathers is a labor of love. It’s got a hefty page count that can make for slow reading through its modest plot, but there is a lot to love whether it’s the main characters, their journey, or the complicated world they operate in. Don’t let YA burn you out, this book is proof there is still great work existing in the genre.
Review: Crown of Feathers – 8.5/10