Claire Legrand's Furyborn, the first book in her Empirium Trilogy, gave me a lot of feelings. I definitely enjoyed it while I was reading. In fact, I got excited enough about halfway through that I had to read the last page to keep myself from getting too frantic. But the more I thought about the story after I finished it, the more faults I found.
Let me say this first: there were parts of the book that I loved! I thought the opening scene was vivid and captivating. The way the story was framed and the way Legrand manipulated timelines to build intrigue really worked for me. Legrand's descriptions of how her characters felt when they used magic were beautifully written. And perhaps most importantly, when I finished the book, I wanted to know what would happen next. That's really all I need the first book in a series to do: make me want more.
But Furyborn wasn't a 10/10 for me, and I'll tell you why. Be warned; there are definitely spoilers ahead.
The reviews I read that held any sort of criticism either focused on Furyborn's character development or on how similar the story was to Sarah Maas' Throne of Glass series. I'll admit that I was a little peeved once I sat and thought about all of the similarities -- and boy, were there a lot. But at the end of the day, there's not really such a thing as a completely original story, and the fact that I didn't notice the similarities until after I was done reading Legrand's work means that it stands well enough on its own for me.
What I mostly take issue with is the worldbuilding in Furyborn. In my first blog post, I described some rules for worldbuilding, and I think Legrand breaks most of them at least once. I'll give you some examples.
My first rule for worldbuilding is to establish the laws of your world. Legrand does this fairly well, but she leaves some holes. In this world, some people have magical powers based in the elements. (For some reason, there are 7 elements -- earth, air, fire, water, light, shadow, and metal -- which don't all seem necessary or mutually exclusive, but that's a different discussion.) Except for the main character, everyone who has ever wielded magic has needed to use some kind of artifact to access their power. This artifact is called a casting, and the magic-user has to make it with their own hands. Without their casting, a person is powerless.
Now, in a world where only some people have powers, and magic doesn't seem to obviously pass through family lines, and the people who do have powers need a casting to access them, how are magical children discovered? To me, this is a major crack in the foundation of Legrand's world. And it's very possible that she has an explanation for it, but I can't know what Legrand doesn't tell me.
Second, I think that worldbuilders need to follow their own laws. One of the characters, Simon, is what's known as a Marque, a descendent of angel-human hybrids. Marques can be identified by markings on their back where wings would be if they were full-blooded angels.
We see Simon shirtless a couple of times in the book, but do we see his marks? No. In fact, when his identity is revealed at the end of the book and someone asks him why he doesn't have marks, he gives some flimsy excuse about how the queen's death was so catastrophic that some things just don't look the way they used to. **Insert giant eye roll here**
Eliana (one of the main characters) doesn't know anything about Marques. She could have seen Simon's marks a hundred times and they wouldn't have meant anything to her. So not only does the absence of Simon's marks break one of the world's laws, it's an unnecessary infraction.
Finally, Legrand broke my trust as a reader. At the end of the book, Rielle (the other main character) learns that her life-long friend, Ludivine, isn't really Ludivine at all. No, the real Ludivine died when she was 16 and was then possessed by an angel who's been impersonating her for years.
Believe me, friends. I went back and looked for clues that Ludivine was actually an angel, and I couldn't find any. The illness that killed the real Ludivine was never mentioned. There was never any indication that Ludivine started acting strangely when she was 16. And Ludivine never accidentally used any of her angelic abilities.
I think it's really unfair -- and honestly, less fun -- to blindside your readers with such a big piece of information. To me, this felt like a kind of betrayal.
So yeah, I took some (relatively small) issues with the worldbuilding in Furyborn, but I still think it's an impressive piece of art. I have so much respect for Legrand's ability to switch back and forth between two characters' perspectives and two different settings, all while building a compelling mystery about one of the character's fates. I definitely don't regret reading this book, and I look forward to its sequel.