Special thank you to Shealea and Caffeine Book Tours for organizing this blog tour and providing me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advance copy and are subject to change in final publication.
While this review is spoiler-free for Iron Heart, it may contain spoilers for Crier’s War.
(So if you haven’t read Crier’s War yet….what are you waiting for?
Title: Iron Heart
Author: Nina Varela
Publication Date: September 8th, 2020
Source: eARC via publisher
Age Range & Genre: YA, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, LGBTQ+
Content warnings: violence, panic attack, torture, body horror (for more details, visit Nina Varela’s website)
Synopsis: 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.
I have been reduced to a pile of goo. I am so soft. These disaster, idiot gays have made me so soft because they are so stinking soft.
Nina Varela’s never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna turn around and desert you. Nina Varela has done it once again and left me utterly and completely wrecked by her writing. Iron Heart is the perfect conclusion to the Crier’s War duology, gripping and satisfying and so, so tender.
I apologize in advance if my thoughts are still incoherent because, as I mentioned, I have been reduced to a puddle of goo. Crier’s War absolutely blew me away when I read it last year, and Iron Heart was easily one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. And I have to say – it did not disappoint.
Iron Heart takes place approximately two weeks after the conclusion of Crier’s War, with Ayla on the run after her failed assassination attempt and Crier’s wedding to Scyre Kinok approaching. Faster paced than its predecessor, Iron Heart follows Ayla and Crier as they separately journey to the kingdom of Varn in the hopes that the Mad Queen Junn can help bring Kinok down before he succeeds in destroying the Heart. In the thrilling conclusion of their story, the stakes are infinitely higher and the feelings that Crier and Ayla both tried to repress in the first book are made even stronger with distance.
Along with Crier and Ayla exuding gay panic and yearning on every other page, Iron Heart is a story that is ultimately about humanity and what some are willing to sacrifice for the sake of “progress.” Crier’s father is a Traditionalist who considers humans as animals that can be observed, whose history the superior Automae can learn from, and Crier’s former fiancé Kinok sees them as little more than scum. But Crier has always been a little different from the rest of her Kind, especially as she discovers that she wants to know Ayla, as humans know each other, and wants to be known in return. Free from restrictions for the first time in her life, Crier finally has the chance to implement the changes she’s dreamed about – and she’s determined to make it count.
Folks, we stan normalized queerness in books. Aside from a sapphic main couple, Nina Varela effortlessly integrates queerness into her writing in a way that I’ve rarely seen – there are numerous characters with established queer identities, yes, but what really captivated me were the stories and fairy tales we get a glimpse of, mostly through our lovable romantic Crier as she takes up the mantle of storyteller. In the short fairy tales that Varela shares in Iron Heart, gender roles are subverted and queer relationships are standard. They also provide another glimpse into Nina Varela’s lyrical and whimsical writing style, imbued with rich lessons and so much heart. Much like Crier, I couldn’t help loving these old stories.
As Ayla and Crier embark on separate journeys (don’t worry, they’re not separated for long) they strengthen bonds with old friends and meet new allies. I loved the new characters Varela introduces in Iron Heart and I was so thrilled that we got to learn more about Queen Junn on a deeper level. Most of all, I loved the fact that both Ayla and Crier are able to form bonds with other humans, something they miss out on in Crier’s War due to different circumstances. Iron Heart is about the side of revolution that remains in the shadows rather than the immediate spotlight, full of sleuthing, alliances, politics and philosophy, but it is no less action-packed for it. Crier and Ayla are very well aware that they cannot take down Kinok by themselves, and luckily, they don’t have to. Their revolution is very much a team effort, made up of people from different kingdoms and backgrounds, with their own beliefs and perspectives – and seeing them come together for a common goal to build a better world gave me some much needed hope.
Iron Heart is incredibly romantic and powerful, but it’s humorous, too. When I wasn’t sending snippets to my friends to show them how unbelievably soft Ayla and Crier are with each other, I was snorting at Crier’s deadpan sense of humor and gay panic, and Ayla’s inability to process positive emotions because, well, same. Even though our two narrators are a literal robot and a would-be assassin, they are just so relatable and real that I couldn’t help seeing myself represented in each of them at different moments throughout the book.
The conclusion to Crier’s War is the perfect mix of tenderness, yearning, and action, and was everything I could have wanted (and didn’t know I needed) to wrap up Crier and Ayla’s story. A million kudos and thanks to Nina, always.
About the Author
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.
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