Incendiary, Book 1

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Incendiary, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Intricate fantasy blends violent court intrigue with magic.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will pick up on some Spanish or Spanish-like words, as well as themes and details reminiscent to that of Inquisition-era Spain. Some may wonder what happened during the real Inquisition, and why people were tortured to "purify" and "unite" a kingdom.

Positive Messages

Incendiary promotes standing up for the oppressed, taking on oppressors, using teamwork and solidarity, and being true to yourself and unashamed of who you are/your background/your heritage. The story makes it clear how easy it is to believe people who think differently are evil and frightening, and why inclusion and tolerance are important.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ren is courageous and determined. Although impetuous at times, she's disciplined and clever. Dez is loyal and loving, brave, and selfless. He puts the cause above everything. Several characters will surprise readers with their personality traits and strengths.


Characters are killed via stabbing (swords), execution (decapitation), fire, and other close-combat techniques. The Moria can use their powers to hurt or kill or leave permanently damaged. The Arm of Justice is a master interrogator who tortures people (or commands others to torture). Central characters don't escape being killed or seriously injured.


Several kisses, a brief love scene, and recollections of a romance. Brief mentions of brothels and other characters' romantic relationships.


Occasional insults include "bestae" (beast), "filthy," "scavenger," "thief," "liar," "it," "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink, either alone or at a few dinners. A kind of liquor called aguadulce is mentioned a few times, as is cava, and wine. Nobles smoke cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Incendiary is the first book in a two-part fantasy series by best-selling author Zoraida Córdova about a universe inspired by Inquisition-era Spain. A young magical woman has to try to rescue her kind from destruction at the hands of the King and his minions. Given the inspiration, it's unsurprising that the book features a good bit of violence, including scenes of torture (manual and supernatural), executions, fires, poisoning, and other forms of killing. There's a brief love scene and some kissing, but the romance isn't the point of the story. People have Spanish-sounding names but are racially diverse, ranging from fair-skinned to brown and black. The protagonist is a powerful young woman who learns to become unapologetic about her powers and begins to trust herself rather than the various manipulative men around her. Teens who read the book may be interested in learning more about the real Inquisition and its historical impact. The propulsive storyline and plot twists should appeal to readers interested in unputdownable fantasies.

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What's the story?

INCENDIARY is set in a fantasy kingdom modeled after Inquisition-era Spain, where the King, his Prince, and the Arm of Justice keep Puerto Leones pure of the Moria -- a race of people who can perform four kind of magic: persuasion, illusion, mind-reading, and memory-stealing. Renata "Ren" Covida is the deadliest kind of Moria, a memory thief (Robári) who can leave people a hollow shell. After a decade on the run with the Whispers, a spy network of Moria rebels and their allies trying to overthrow the bloodthirsty King and stop the genocide of their people, a tragedy forces Ren back to the palace, where as a little girl she was once forced to act as the Arm of Justice's (think High Inquisitor) secret weapon. Deep undercover, Ren must figure out how not to lose herself as she lets everyone believe she's happy to betray her kind to stay in the king's good graces.

Is it any good?

This part-fantasy, part-thriller is full of court intrigue, spycraft, and magical world building that is sure to attract not just Córdova's existing readers but fans of Bardugo, Carson, and Cashore. It's a rare series opener that makes you long for a third book in the series, but Córdova packs so much information and background into the story of the Moria that, for once, this might have been a series better served as a trilogy instead of a duology. There's a lot going on here, and it's mostly fascinating, but there's not enough follow through on all of the threads. What is included is well thought out and action-packed, written in a descriptive, cinematic way that makes this a good candidate for a television option.

Fans of love stories should be warned that this isn't strictly speaking a romance. Those who understand that genre's conventions will figure that out quickly enough. Ren's character arc is riveting, and Córdova keeps readers guessing and hoping and on the edge of their proverbial seats. It's also worth noting how seamlessly the author weaves in representation of all kinds in a genre known to be lacking diversity. Readers aren't hit over the head, but it's clear that the characters have different skin tones, cultural backgrounds, and more. Readers ready for a page-turning new fantasy series need look no further.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the quasi-historical fantasy setting in Incendiary. What aspects of the book seems inspired by the Spanish Inquisition? Do you have to be familiar with the Inquisition to understand the similarities?

  • Do you consider Ren a role model? What character strengths does she rely on? Why are courage and empathy important?

  • Discuss the violence in the story. Why is or isn't it necessary to the plot? How is written violence different than visual violence?

  • What do you think of the central romance? Why is it an atypical sort of love story?

Book details

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For kids who love fantasy

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