I immensely enjoyed Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova, the first in her new Hollow Crown series. It is a clever, punchful, gory, passionate novel, aflame with desire and justice, as well as a wonderful creation of myth and history and a meditation on the nature of memory and identity. I was variously hooked by the plot and premise; surprised at twists and challenges in the journey; and impressed upon by the delicacy, sensuality, and bloodiness of the narrative.
As such, it has an amazing amount to offer a reader, much outside the remit of this review. I would like to emphasise that it seems to me a highly topical engagement, in that it centres on the resistance of the Moria, a people whose lands, cultures, and magical powers have been erased, colonized, and destroyed by King Fernando, the reigning King of Puerto Leones, in a fictional era echoing Inquisition-era Spain. Herself born in Ecuador and immigrant to the US, Córdova’s novel pertinently connects us to the scapegoated and tortured ‘heretics’ of history and the indigenous peoples of the pre-colonial Americas, illuminating those fighting today – at a time when we are acutely witnessing a global call for the fall of colonial power, and the valuing of the lives of the long-oppressed.
Readers will be hooked into the adventure by the voice of Córdova’s heroine and narrator, Renata Convida – a strategic, strong, and passionate fighter and lover. Orphaned from Moria parents, she was taken into the Kingdom’s company; but, when she is rescued by the Moria in the famous Whispers rebellion, her time in the palace incites mistrust in the Moria, amongst whom she must navigate feeling alone – but also deeply in love with her leader, Dez.
When Dez’s arrest leads her unit back to the kingdom, her previous captor Justice Méndez has a second chance to provide the power-hungry King with her powers as a sought-after Róbari – blessed with one of the four Moria ‘magics’, stealing another’s memory. From inside, she tactfully discovers the originary deception at the heart of the Kingdom, amongst a handful of colourful and humourous well-defined allies (the attendant Leo, elegant Lady Nuria) and set in vivid, medievalesque scenes.
As such, truth precedes the Kingdom’s peace, and the unfolding of the self holds the key to the Morias’ collective struggle to assert their own truth. A meditation on the powerful hold of myth and memory, that sustain our views of the world and ourselves, Córdova’s novel is a testament to the quality of memories, their suppression or rewriting – and, not least, to the author’s attempt to capture its silvery, slippery essence in language: this is a novel in which ‘memories [... form] and re-form like ink in water’, or ‘[undulate] like light on water’.
I look forward to the next installment in 2021.
Laurence William Tidy