Bound by Firelight by Dana Swift
After a magical eruption devastates the kingdom of Belwar, royal heir Adraa is falsely accused of masterminding the destruction and forced to stand trial in front of her people, who see her as a monster. Adraa’s punishment? Imprisonment in the Dome, an impenetrable, magic-infused fortress filled with Belwar’s nastiest criminals—many of whom Adraa put there herself. And they want her to pay.
Jatin, the royal heir to Naupure, has been Adraa’s betrothed, nemesis, and fellow masked vigilante… but now he’s just a boy waiting to ask her the biggest question of their lives. First, though, he’s going to have to do the impossible: break Adraa out of the Dome. And he won’t be able to do it without help from the unlikeliest of sources—a girl from his past with a secret that could put them all at risk.
Time is running out, and the horrors Adraa faces in the Dome are second only to the plot to destabilize and destroy their kingdoms. But Adraa and Jatin have saved the world once already… Now, can they save themselves?
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Stopping a volcanic eruption was hard enough. Putting the country back together might be even harder.
After everything Adraa and Jatin have done to protect the nation of Belwar, distrust still runs rampant. Adraa is accused of causing the eruption, rather than mitigating its worst effects, and despite her best efforts, she is sentenced to imprisonment in the Dome. Some of Belwar’s worst criminals await her, criminals she put there, and still, there are greater things to fear inside the infamous prison.
Meanwhile, Jatin grapples with the sudden weight of responsibility, not only in Adraa’s absence, but during his father’s sudden decline in health. Desperate to free Adraa from the Dome, but stumbling through protecting his people, he doesn’t know how long he has until instability rips through all of Wickery, tearing everything apart.
Time is running out, powerful players have at last entered the field, and it will take everything Adraa and Jatin have to survive the dangers to come.
Jatin is a boy in love, and I have a soft spot for him.
Maybe it’s because I prefer a soft but capable love interest. Or, maybe it’s because his best friend lovingly ribs him about his romantic goofs, and Adraa loves him back all the same. Mix in his deep-rooted loyalty and just enough caution to keep him from plunging head-first into everything, and you have a character I really like!
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Adraa too. Her stubborn determination and her dedication to making Belwar a better place for the people who live there is excellent. But at the end of the day, Jatin is just a little less put together, with his heart stumbling around on his sleeve, and it delights me endlessly.
It also makes the relationships between characters, romantic or not, more interesting! They get to tease one another about their flaws, but Jatin’s openness also means that he and the supporting cast dodge a lot of the common miscommunication tropes, and they make a stronger team for it.
I do love a team built on trust, folks. I’m predictable like that.
Bound by Firelight, though, lacks some of the punch and power that Cast in Firelight first offered.
Sequels are hard. Second books are also hard. Unfortunately, I think both things affected Bound by Firelight for the worse.
Normally, breaking into a secure prison and righting past wrongs would be fascinating to me. Those are plot elements I’m extremely fond of in many forms! But they come at the cost of a lack of the vigilante action that made Cast in Firelight so tense and interesting, and they also introduce so many new players that don’t quite get time enough to shine.
Harini, for instance, becomes one of Adraa’s only allies in the Dome, but ultimately, I feel that she was gently sidelined so that Adraa could be the unequivocal star. Their tenuous but powerful partnership took second place as the story came to a close, and it felt like a bit of a letdown, considering how important that partnership was shaping up to me.
One of Jatin’s new allies suffers a similar fate, and while the character in question gets a moment of heroism that proves where certain loyalties lie, they’re ultimately inserted into the story quite suddenly, and placed back on the sidelines with equal speed.
And all that is to say nothing of the reveals along the way. For a story that confronts a major plot to destabilize nations, that promises to at least deal with the man orchestrating so many problems from the shadows, it falls somewhat flat in the final deliveries. I found myself frustrated by one reveal, which felt weak in that there hadn’t been much evidence to support it along the way (and I mean this even in terms of veiled evidence; I love mysteries and all their little clues, so I genuinely felt like this subplot mystery was lacking in structural support).
And the final showdown? Dramatic, certainly, but also a whirlwind that didn’t land with the impact I would have hoped for. It’s the conclusion to a duology that grapples with power and leadership and whatnot, and it ended in a way that felt given rather than earned.
Overall, I think I preferred the first book to the second.
It’s a shame to say, especially when the second book is also the last. But for all its exciting elements and outstanding use of character voice, Bound by Firelight didn’t stand nearly as strong in the plot department for me. I feel as though things should have escalated a little more firmly, as though too much time was spent wandering around the heart of it all.
That said, I would be interested to see what Dana Swift writes next. She has a clear voice for each character and a knack for characterization, especially in those vital interpersonal moments. Those are the real stars of her work. Hopefully, her future work will become stronger in regards to plot and delivery.
CW: violence, loss of a loved one, drug use, addiction, torture