Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Alexandra Overy’s YA Fantasy These Feathered Flames, followed by an interview with the author. This post is also part of a book tour organized by TBR And Beyond Tours. You’ll find more information about the tour at the end of this post, as well as links to all of the other blogs that are also participating in it.
Content warning: Death of a parent, on page emotional abuse, references to physical abuse, on page death, fantasy violence.
A queer retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale.
When twin heirs are born in Tóurin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm. But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned. As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.
My review of These Feathered Flames
Asya and Izaveta are wonderful main characters, each with her own distinctive voice and her own compelling storyline. Through Izaveta’s eyes, we get to see the political intrigues of Tóurin, as well as the complexities of court life. We also accompany her on her journey as she tries to follow into the footsteps of her mother, the late queen. Asya’s perspective on the other hand gives us a much closer look at the rich mythology of this world. The myth of the Firebird is cleverly adapted here in a way that celebrates the original story, while also building up on it to add richness to the fantasy aspect of the book. We also find out about the various gods and saints of this world, which I thought was really interesting. Similarly, we are given quite a lot of information about the history of Tóurin, including some backstory about past queens and Firebirds. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the queer/sapphic representation in the book. The book includes a slow-burn sapphic romance that I thought was executed really well, with a lot of cute, swoon-worthy moments, as well as truly heartfelt ones. Overall, I had a great time reading this book. It has interesting characters, awesome queer/sapphic rep and a fascinating world with an equally rich mythology. I honestly can’t wait for the next book!
Interview with Alexandra Overy
QaS: Fairy tales feature a lot in your work, with These Feathered Flames being a retelling of the Firebird myth and your upcoming book, The Gingerbread Witch, being a middle grade retelling of Hansel and Gretel. What is it about these stories that you find inspiring, and what other fairy tales would you like to visit in your future books?
AO: I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tales, partly because of the way they interweave with the fabric of our society so closely. They tell us so much about social values and cultures, and the way particular characters are centred in them has also played a huge role in (or perhaps, is a reflection of) so many historical prejudices (especially in the Western European traditions). In retellings you get the opportunity to de-centre the perhaps more traditional hero and get a new perspective on a familiar tale that can give it an entirely new outlook. I think that’s what makes them so interesting to write!
I’m especially interested in villains—who, in fairy tales, are often historically marginalised people or people who don’t fit the supposed norms of society—which was what led me to my MG retelling of “Hansel and Gretel”. I’d love to continue that theme and find some way to spin a very creepy fairy tale like “Blue Beard” (my grandfather read me the Brothers Grimm version of this when I was seven not realising quite how gory it is….or the influence it would have). It’d be a great challenge to try to take our classic view on that tale, and that character, and find a different way to look at it.
QaS: In the queendom of Tóurin, when twin heirs are born, one becomes queen and the other becomes the new Firebird. If you had been in the twins’ shoes, which path would you have hoped for?
AO: I feel like neither one is a great path, given the risks of being queen and the huge pressure that comes with being the Firebird. But, much as I like the idea of fiery powers, I don’t think I could stomach having to hunt down people and ensure they’ve paid the price of magic (in particular, I think of the opening scene of TFF where the Firebird takes a girl’s arm…I’d be even worse than Asya at that!). So ultimately I’ll say queen, because at least all the politics and schemes would be interesting and the chance of murder is slightly lower. Plus, the queen has access to a really cool library and I can’t pass that up 😊
QaS: In the book, we follow the points of view of the two sisters, Asya and Izaveta. What was it like for you to switch between their points of view when writing their scenes?
AO: Writing multiple points of view is always a challenge because you have to really make the voices sound distinct and accurate to the characters. When you have such different ones, like Asya who is much more trusting and hopeful, and Izaveta who’s cynical and scheming, it means really having to consider how they would look at every situation. In edits that was definitely something I focused on: making sure every chapter really fit into the respective sister’s voice. Even with small things, like the imagery they use to describe a room or a feeling, has to be filtered through their character and perspective. Asya, for example, uses a lot of nature and forest imagery as that’s where she’s spent most of her recent years and that’s where she feels comfortable, whereas Izaveta treats every conversation like a game as that is what the complicated politics of the court have taught her.
QaS: In the queendom of Tóurin, birds are said to have magical significance, which is something that we see in a lot of fairy tales too. Why do you think birds are so often associated with stories and magic, and what was your inspiration for the way birds are featured in your story?
AO: I have to be honest, I’m stealing this answer from my girlfriend because she put it so well: birds are aspirational. Humans are, of course, very grounded creatures and there’s something so enticing about the idea of being able to fly away at a moment’s notice. I think that’s what always makes birds so captivating to the imagination; that notion of being able to reach a world beyond a human’s grasp. That idea is really fascinating to me, and it translated into the birds having a kind of magic of their own in These Feathered Flames. Of course, this all centres on the Firebird because a society that has a creature like that would inevitably have myths and questions about other birds and the way they tie into magic. It was really interesting to expand those beliefs into the way birds and bird sightings actually have a big impact on the story. (Perhaps an even bigger impact in book two…)
QaS: In These Feathered Flames, we are given glimpses of the intricate history of the queendom, with many references to past queens and Firebirds, which I found super interesting. Will we learn more about the history of Tóurin in the next book?
AO: I’m so glad that you noticed that! I have a background in history so figuring out how the past creates ripples into the present day story was important to me. Before I even wrote TFF, I knew a lot of the history of the queendom and previous queens and Firebirds because of how that would inform the present (even if the reader doesn’t know how yet). And it definitely plays a very important role in the sequel, but that’s all I can say on that!
QaS: Likewise, the book also introduces us to other lands and rulers, as well as hints of potential political conflict. Without spoiling too much, what can you tell us about what to expect in the next book with regards to the political intrigue?
AO: To be very vague because this definitely reaches into spoiler territory: yes, we definitely will see more of the other lands. In particular, we’ll see more of how they interact with Tóurin and the power it holds because of the Firebird—and the lengths the other countries might go to in order to gain back some of that power. I’ve been working to really get the political conflict to expand beyond what we know in the first book while also tying it to things that are deeply personal to the characters, and throwing in some twists of course!
QaS: And for the final question, what are some of your favorite fairy tales?
AO: When I was little I always loved “Hansel and Gretel”, but I think that was mostly because of the cottage made of gingerbread and sweets which always sounded amazing (and was definitely one of the best parts of writing “The Gingerbread Witch”). I also always loved the Disney versions of so many classic fairy tales, but I’m also drawn towards any that have darker, creepier origins like Andersen’s version of “The Little Mermaid” where the mermaid ends up as sea foam, or “Godfather Death”, which is precisely what you’d expect from the title.
About the author
Alexandra grew up in London and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her undergraduate degree in history at UCLA. She then went on to compete her MFA in screenwriting also at UCLA, and stuck around for the weather and great ice cream. She loves writing in all formats, from novels to screenplays to graphic novels, always centering on fierce women and morally grey characters, often with a bit of magic and murder. When she’s not writing, she can be found baking, fangirling over her favourite books, or cuddling her kittens.
You can follow Alexandra online at the following: