Publishing Info: January 21, 2020 by Penguin
Source: Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Date Completed: February 17, 2020
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races in this epic fantasy following three phoenix horse riders--skilled at alchemy--who must compete at The Races--the modern spectacle that has replaced warfare within their empire.
Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they've raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.
Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That's all legal and encouraged.
In this year's Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest--a champion's daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary's son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?
So far, most of my Goodreads friend reviews are mostly five-star ratings for this book and some four-star. How did we know I was going to be the black sheep here…? If you’d like to read a cynical/critical review, this is it!
First of all, the comparison to “Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races”… just no. I usually hate comparisons and this one is one terrible. They’re two of my favorite books EVER with incredible character development, world-building, and plotting, and this book did not have it for me. The only Scorpio Races connection is the fact that it’s a horse race and it’s nothing else like TSR and Red Rising’s plotting and character connections are far superior than this book. It was far more of a Hunger Games feel than RR or TSR.
I listened to this book on audio and all of the narrators are ones I’ve listened to before and really enjoyed, so I know it wasn’t an issue of narrator. (Rebecca Soler, Lauren Fortgang, and Andrew Eiden, in case you were wondering!) When it comes to my fantasy preferences nowadays, I. Need. World-Building. The first paragraph of this book was the most interesting. There was a mention about nebulas in the sky and … hey, that was it as far as the actual WORLD part of the world-building. Is this a fantasy world? Are we in space? Is this related to our galaxy? I immediately wanted to know more about the galaxies in the sky and where this book took place and we never really get to know. Not just that, but there’s no real history about this fantasy world at all. There are plenty of mentions about “the gods” and how they’re the gods of the Ashlords but there’s not really much of anything else. We know that sacrifices happen, gods live in the underworld, and the Ashlords are connected to the gods above the others, but I don’t even know anything about the country or town or divisions of any sort.
There are a lot of things that don’t come up in the book until they’re needed so it just seems like a total afterthought. There are random leaders of each … community? Town? See, I don’t even know how this country (or whatever) is divided and why there are random leaders. Of course, the leader is oppressive and creepy and he shows up just to be awful and has no other significance whatsoever. Then there’s this police force which doesn’t show up until the end when all of a sudden they’re necessary. Even with the races and the horses/phoenixes, there were things we didn’t get to know until it was happening and everything was just told to us instead of actually learning about things in a more natural fashion.
I also don’t even know anything about the phoenixes at ALL…??? The synopsis said they were gifted to the Ashlords by the gods but we don’t really get to learn about that at all, anywhere in the book. There are tiiiiny pieces but I barely know anything about them. The characters create/influence them with alchemy but we don’t get to learn much about the alchemy other than being told what ingredients are used and we don’t really get to know why or how it works. Where did they come from? Are they otherworldly beings? How do their rebirths work and why do they HAVE to do that? What’s the magic system with what makes them different and how the riders use them? Why do riders have to happen and what do they gain from the races? Why are the races necessary? And so many more questions about gods and Ashlords and I COULD GO ON.
I really can talk a LOT more about this but let’s just say that there’s really no history or world-building, or at least not nearly enough for my taste. I could have been incredibly invested if I even know what this world was about.
Most of this book is action. There’s a lot of time spent spent talking about the races, which is fine! But everything else took a backseat, and for me, it really felt like EVERYTHING else.
I also really did not feel connected to the characters at all. There are three main characters but we barely get to know their personalities at all. Everything is basically about the race and we hardly get to see the characters interact with anyone of importance. We get some glimpses of Imelda and her friendships and her home life, but they’re just glimpses. No real time is spent there and it’s mainly just to set up other random parts of the story. The characters are very basic and don’t really tell us much about their histories either.
There’s one character POV that’s in second person instead of the other two in first person and there’s seemingly no reason why. I would hope there’s an actual reason but it wasn’t revealed in the first book and I won’t be reading on so maybe I’ll look it up later. It could have been interesting but it really didn’t seem to serve a purpose here.
I’m sure there’s more bubbling up inside my fountain of feelings here, but really, this one just did not do it for me. I don’t know how I feel SO far off from everyone so far but it was interesting going into it with an open mind AND expecting like it and seeing what my true feelings were without any hype or any other expectations.
Kept Me Hooked On: Fantasy/sci-fi blend. This really was an interesting mix of fantasy and science-fiction. I really wanted to know more about everything!
Left Me Wanting More: World-building. The world-building in this book was just not up to par for me. I had a LOT of questions and there were so many things that weren’t touched upon that it made me really question everything. There were too many missed opportunities here.
Get a second opinion
So lots of other people really enjoyed this book, maybe people who have not read THE SCORPIO RACES nor RED RISING or who at least weren’t making those comparisons because it didn’t have that feel at all for me. You just can’t compare the character development in THE SCORPIO RACES and the insane plotting and world-building in RED RISING. Anyway… a lot of other people loved this one but it angered me, really, haha. So check out other reviews, I’d say!