I’m here today with such an exciting post, it’s my stop on the blog tour for Iron Heart! Iron Heart is the sequel to the incredible sapphic science fantasy novel Crier’s War. Thank you so much to Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours, HarperTeen and Nina Varela for allowing me to scream excitedly about this book on this tour! You are in for such a treat with this sequel! Do check out the rest of the tour stops all week long, you can view the tour schedule here.
Title: Iron Heart
Author: Nina Varela
Publication date: 08 September 2020
Genres: Young Adult | Fantasy | Science Fiction
An unstoppable love between two girls—one human, one Made—both set on destroying the Iron Heart.
For too long the cruel, beautiful Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing the humans who live there. But the human revolution is on the rise, and at its heart is Ayla. Once handmaiden, now fugitive, Ayla escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl Ayla had planned to kill . . . but instead fell in love with. Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, whom she believes can accomplish the ultimate goal of the human rebellion: destroy the Iron Heart. Without it, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction.
But playing at Ayla’s memory are the powerful feelings she developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among travelling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.
As their paths collide, neither are prepared for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.
In this stunning sequel to acclaimed author Nina Varela’s Crier’s War, the love that launched a revolution must now pave the way for a whole new era…and the ultimate change of heart.
Bio: Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays, short fiction, poetry, and novels. In May 2017, she graduated magna cum laude from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a BFA in Writing for Screen & Television. Crier’s War was her debut, and this is the sequel. She is originally from Durham, North Carolina, where she grew up on a hippie commune in the middle of the woods. She now lives in Los Angeles.
Please note that this review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, Crier’s War. All quotes are from an advanced reader’s copy so may be changed in the final copy.
Ummmm so where on earth do I start with this book?! It’s probably one of my favourite sequels ever! I love it even more than Crier’s War, it went in a direction I never really expected and oh my god, it’s so, so gay. I am in love.
Iron Heart picks up where Crier’s War left off: Ayla and Benji are on their way to Varn to ally with the Mad Queen; Crier is betrothed to Scyre Kinok and waiting to be married. Meanwhile, Scyre Kinok’s alternative to Heartstone continues to wreck havoc on his followers and Crier and Ayla must find find a way to stop him.
All I have to say is wow. I wasn’t sure what we were going to expect in this sequel, but it certainly wasn’t what we got. But I loved it! I’m going to attempt to talk about this in some semblance of an order so here are some headings to assist.
Things got dark
This is probably the main element giving me the ‘I did not expect this’ vibe. But Iron Heart got so dark, it almost had a horror vibe at times which is of course why I’m so absolutely in love with this!! Let’s start with the shades, these creepy, terrifying creatures: goodness they are horrific! I absolutely adore the kind of ‘creature that is quite clearly dead but yet still fights on and on and will never, ever stop’. There is just something so spinechillingly creepy about it. Varela’s descriptions were so fantastic. They are definitely creepy and gross, and there is a MAJOR content warning for body horror. But I found the way the shades were described with their broken limbs, black veins and caved in heads, just so disgustingly fantastic!
The plotline surrounding the Iron Heart and how Heartstone was made also got rreeeal dark and I absolutely loved it. It was so unexpected, I was shook. There’s a moment in a room where Crier just freezes as she realises the truth and then you freeze when you realise what she’s realised, it was just amazing. Where Crier’s War was perhaps a little lighter, based within the safety of the palace, now that Ayla and Crier have left the confines of the palace, they are faced with a world darker than even I, someone who reads a lot of dark books, had anticipated.
Things got real gay
Crier oh Crier my sweet, sweet Crier. The love she has for Ayla is seriously unmatched. This Automa is literally fighting to the death and all she can think about is Ayla. It is so funny but also so sweet and tender. Meanwhile there’s Ayla who’s refusing to think about Crier at all even though she’ll see random day to day objects like a hairbrush or a bathtub and immediately think about Crier. The way these two are so constantly in the other’s thoughts was just adorable and so so beautiful. And their reunion scene is one of my favourites in the book. The horror and shock and disbelief is hilarious to read and also it’s just really really gay. There are so many moments of soft queer yearning and longing and glancing looks and holding hands and constantly checking back to make sure the other is okay, I love them to pieces. This book just gives us sapphic joy and I love it.
I loved that we got to spend a bit more time with characters we didn’t get to see as much of in the first book, particularly Queen Junn of Varn, the Mad Queen, the Bone Eater. We saw her briefly in Crier’s War but she plays a much more important role in this book. I love seeing female monarchs kicking butts and ruling shit and Junn, as a queen who had to take the throne whilst still a teenager, is that to a tee. She’s had to build this air of ferocity and madness in an attempt to get people to fear her because it’s the only way they’d listen to a young woman. I also appreciated getting to see more of Storme and hear his backstory finally about how the heck he survived the village raid and made it to Queen Junn’s court. There’s also some really sweet anecdotes about the relationship between Junn and Storme, and despite it being such a small part of the book, the hidden story of how they met is really touching and beautiful. I’m still not a Benji fan however. Benji, can you seriously stop harassing Ayla for being in love with Crier, WHO WOULDN’T LOVE HER.
We also get a deeper look into alchemy in this book! I really loved the extra worldbuilding details added thanks to our time spent in Queen Junn’s court. I really love small worldbuilding details in fantasy, so there were some really interesting alchemy creations that I appreciated, like the little birds that flew about to stop intruders. We also got a better look at alchemy in the search for Yora’s heart, that mysterious substance from the first book which we learned powered the very first Automa. I would still have liked to see more of this, but that’s because I’m a big fan of very intricate and detailed adult fantasies and so love exploring new and exciting sciences or magics or religions – I always want more of it!
So all in all, I really loved Iron Heart! I enjoyed Crier’s War but loved this sequel even more. The darkness was unexpected but that’s part of what made me love this book as it provided such a deadly, tense atmosphere for the book. And finally, of course Crier and Ayla’s relationship continued to be both the sweetest and gayest relationship in YA and I will love them forever.