Today I’m SO excited to be sharing my review of Iron Heart by Nina Varela, as part of the Caffeine Book Tours blog tour.
A huge thank you to Caffeine Book Tours for providing me with an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Make sure you check out the full blog tour schedule for more reviews of 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.
TWs: Death, murder, torture, kidnapping, mild gore, body horror, drug use, panic attacks, PTSD.
I read Crier’s War last year and it was an instant hit for me. I loved the world, characters, and political intrigue, and the enemies-to-lovers F/F romance had me completely sold.
So the stakes were high for book two, as they often are. But I didn’t feel any of the nervousness that I sometimes do when wondering if a sequel will live up to the first book. I felt safe in the knowledge that Nina Varela would give us a brilliant conclusion to the duology.
And she absolutely did.
Iron Heart is a phenomenal ending to a wonderful duology. It’s full of alchemy, monsters, romance, quests, fight scenes, squad team ups, and so much more.
Brilliantly plotted and exquisitely written, this book stole my heart and I found myself loving it even more than book one.
A big part of what makes this book so good is the writing style. This is Nina Varela’s second published book, but she writes like an experienced professional who’s spent a long time honing her craft. And this manifests in the easy grace and elegance of her writing style which gives us beautiful descriptions and incredibly poignant moments.
We believe the Universe birthed an infinite number of stars. By this logic, you could stand anywhere in this world and look up at the night sky and your line of sight would inevitably end on a star. By this logic, the night sky shouldn’t be dark at all; it should be a blinding wash of starlight.
The narrative also offers us some fantastic character development. Crier is bolder, braver, and less naive in this book. We get to see more of her personality as she decides who she wants to be and which side she wants to be on. She’s still Automa but she seems more human than ever.
Ayla is defiant and eager for change, but she also seems softer and more empathetic. She’s whip-smart, energised, and a survivor, but her hard edges become softened the more time she spends with Crier.
We get to see a lot more of Crier and Ayla’s interactions in book two and their relationship changes a lot.
“But…if there’s anything you want to give. One story. One solitary point on the map of yourself. One star in the constellation, one door unlocked. I will accept it, and be honoured, and I will not forget.”
They’re no longer enemies and no longer lady and handmaiden; they’re equals. And this level of equality between them allows them to grow closer and connect in new ways that they never could in the Sovereign’s Palace.
Their companionship, romantic moments, and humorous dialogue make for some of the best moments in the novel. We get to see them finding strength and happiness in each other and bringing out the best parts of each other that they don’t always see in themselves.
And we get to see them falling in love. Which is part of what made this story so touching and beautiful.
…the warmth of Ayla’s touch rivaled the afternoon sun. Crier imagined her skin turning gold, a patch of gold in the shape of Ayla’s hand, gold sinking beneath her skin, into her bones.
There’s something very different about Ayla and Crier’s love compared to other sapphic romances I’ve read.
It’s tricky to pinpoint exactly what this is, but I think it comes from the way they struggle through adversity in their world (they’re different Kinds and are expected to ‘know their place’) to then discover that they’re kindred spirits and share this incredible bond.
It’s you, the wash of starlight, the old paradox: if the Universe were static, I could stand anywhere in this world and I swear my line of sight would end on you. I swear I’d find you in the dark.
Other characters also return in this story and it was great to see more of Benjy, Queen Junn, Faye, and Storme, as well as new characters Hook, Erren, and Dinara. (Hook and Erren are my new faves, can we please have a spin-off story about them???)
Iron Heart also adds a sprinkle of horror to the sci-fi/fantasy world of Crier’s War, with new dark, gruesome creatures and fight scenes involving them that will leave you breathless.
Celestial bodies floating in a black sea, carried by a current older than life. Drifting farther and farther apart. The nature of the Universe is that everything inside it becomes lonelier and lonelier and lonelier.
The plot itself is a fantastic blend of action sequences, moments of revelation, and character progression. The final few chapters take the story out in a blaze of glory with some sweet, sweet plot twists that I did not see coming (but most definitely screamed at).
At the heart of the story are the themes of survival, the fragility of life, and desire for sociopolitical change. We see these themes epitomised in Crier and Ayla’s desperation to keep each other away from harm, and their desire to make the world safe for humans and Automa to coexist.
Intentionally or not, these themes really resonate with our world today and everything that’s happening in it. Reading Crier and Ayla’s story reminded me to keep fighting for all the good things in the world and to stay hopeful that we can change things for the better.
‘”If I believed in that kind of thing – which I don’t, really – I’d say that a blank palm is like a blank page. A whole book full of blank pages. You’re a storyteller. I bet you could fill them with something.”‘
With a combination of scintillating writing, explosive action scenes, plot twists galore, a soft romance, and two captivating main characters, Nina Varela brings this duology to a devastatingly good close. It’s a fitting (and beautiful) ending for a game-changing series and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Iron Heart is OUT NOW in the US and releases on 14th October in the UK.
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.