Desert Isle Keeper
I’ve always been intrigued by the phoenix, that mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its own funeral pyre again and again, so when I learned that Nicki Pau Preto had written a book in which phoenixes play an enormous role, I knew I had to read it. Crown of Feathers turned out to be everything I was hoping for and more.
Sixteen-year-old Veronyka has dreamed of becoming a phoenix rider for as long as she can remember. She and her older sister Val were orphaned as young children, and they’ve been living alone in the wilderness ever since, so it doesn’t seem at all likely that Veronyka’s dreams of soaring high on the back of a phoenix will ever come true, but she’s determined to keep her hope alive. When she discovers two phoenix eggs near their cabin, Veronyka is sure this is exactly what she needs to realize her dream. All she needs to do is keep the eggs safe until they hatch and then bond with one of the birds after it’s born, and once she has a bonded phoenix, it will be easy to find the camp of phoenix riders rumored to be hidden nearby. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and after a stunning betrayal at Val’s hand, Veronyka runs off alone in search of the band of phoenix riders. She eventually finds them, and disguises herself as a boy in order to join their ranks.
Tristan has grown up in the phoenix riders’ camp. His father is the leader of this secretive band of rebels, determined to bring down the evil empire that wishes to put an end to the magical bond between the phoenixes and their riders. He’s trained long and hard, and hopes to one day become a leader of his own squadron. Unfortunately, he and his father do not get along well, and Tristan begins to fear he’s destined for a mediocre post in the group.
Sev is a slave boy, traveling with the emperor’s army. The army is trying hard to discover the whereabouts of the group of phoenix riders, since the bond between phoenix and rider is seen as a grave threat to the empire. Sev doesn’t agree with the Emperor’s stance against the riders, but he’s not sure he’s in a position to do anything about it. Still, he keeps his eyes open and takes part in small acts of rebellion when the opportunity presents itself.
The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Veronyka, Tristan, and Sev. It’s easy to see how Veronyka’s story intersects with Tristan’s, but it took me a little longer to figure out how Sev fit into the mix. His chapters are a little slower in pace, but they do provide quite a bit of insight into this world’s political climate. It also helps that Sev is a very likable character, and I enjoyed watching him come into his own.
Tristan and Veronyka form a lovely friendship that could develop into something more intense as the series goes on. At first, Tristan isn’t aware of Veronyka’s true identity – girls are forbidden to join the riders’ ranks – but once he learns the truth, he’s quite supportive of her and promises to help her achieve her dream. These two complement each other very well. Veronyka is very knowledgeable when it comes to fighting and survival, and she is able to help Tristan hone his abilities in hopes of impressing his father. For his part, Tristan teaches Veronyka what she needs to know about military strategy so she won’t be at such a severe disadvantage when the time comes for her to actually ride a phoenix.
Val is an extremely compelling, if unlikable character. She has a large part to play in the overall story arc, but we don’t learn a lot about her in this first installment in the series. I’m hoping this will change in book two, since I have a feeling there’s quite a bit going on in her devious little mind. She and Veronyka have a strained relationship, and I’m wondering if they will be able to find a way forward in future books.
The world-building here is nothing short of stunning, and Nicki Pau Preto has crafted a world as magical and mysterious as any I’ve had the pleasure to read about. There’s a lot for the reader to absorb, but the author never resorts to info dumping, instead allowing readers to learn how the world works in a way that feels naturaI and bringing the phoenixes to vibrant life.
Crown of Feathers was a book I hated to put down, so be sure you carve out a large chunk of reading time for yourself. The plot is action-packed, and I flew through this almost 500-page novel in just over a day and a half. The story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m waiting with bated breath for the next book to come out. Hopefully, Nicki Pau Preto won’t make me wait too long.