Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez (book review) 💃🐲
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 351 pages
Zarela is the daughter of a legendary Dragonador (dragon fighter). When tragedy strikes during one of their shows her family faces expulsion from the esteemed Dragon Guild (and the loss of their home). She is forced to hire an aloof dragon hunter/tamer (Arturo) to train her in the art of dragon fighting in order to take her father's place and save her home.
Ibañez has always excelled at writing wonderful female protagonists and her third book is no exception to this pattern. Zarela Zalvidar is determined and ambitious. She's also loyal and loving. Her journey in this novel is one of hardship and heartache but she always endures. She's an easy protagonist to root for.
Zarela's love interest is Arturo. He is often described as guarded and aloof and that is an apt depiction of him at a surface level. As we get to know him more as the novel progresses, we see he's also just as passionate as Zarela while also being protective and compassionate. The two have an enemies-to-lovers story line that resembled somewhat both of the romances from Ibañez's previous works. They are perhaps my favorite couple she's done to date. The two initially share an obvious animosity for each other, yet we get moments of tender softness and sizzling heat that make the eventual payoff all the more gratifying.
Something positive here that isn't present in either of Ibañez's previous books is the presence of a female best friend. Yes, you can argue that the protagonists of Woven in Moonlight and Written in Starlight are best friends, but we don't get many scenes in either book of the two actually interacting. Romances are great, but the presence of friend characters is an often overlooked gem. Said friend in this book is Lola and she's quite charming.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Zarela. Much like writing solid protagonists another area where Ibañez excels is in her world building. This is, obviously, a necessary skill for a fantasy writer. She takes a lot of inspiration from her heritage (she's the daughter of Bolivian immigrants).
This novel takes place in a city which has various guilds (for dragon fighters or Dragonadores, for those in the arts, for those who practice magic, etc.) and focuses on the tradition of dragon fighting and flamenco dancing as forms of entertainment. There are quite a few different species of dragons within the novel. Something little that I think readers will appreciate is that in the front of the noel there is a brief description of the various guilds and dragons which can be a handy refrence while reading. What we learn about this world is very singularly focused, but that is because we are learning about what is important to our protagonist.
This novel emphasizes the importance of family and traditions and culture. However, something I liked was how it also allows for the idea of being open to change and adapting certain things over time. This concept of growth is one present in all of Ibañez's novels.
This novel is a standalone but I am hoping Ibañez does with this book what she did with her first (writing a companion). There's so much untapped potential in this world. I would especially like to learn more about the magos and brujas (those who practice magic). The character from this guild, Guillermo, we get to know isn't interesting enough to carry his own story. So, if Ibañez goes this route I hope she introduces an entirely new character.
I have two minor critiques of this novel that didn't lower my enjoyment but I feel are worth mentioning. The first is that Zarela is sometimes too pushy with Arturo (though not as bad as Catalina from Written in Starlight) and the two fall into the miscommunication trope. Second, the twist reveal in the later part of the novel was, in my opinion, predictable. I don't think it will be for everyone, but I suspected it pretty early on.
One final thing of note is there are quite a few scenes of people being burned alive by dragon fire. This includes some children. The scenes aren't graphic or long but I can imagine some, especially survivors of fires, may be sensitive to that so I wanted to mention it.
FINAL THOUGHTS Ibañez is one of my top YA fantasy authors so I was eager for this release. I was a little nervous given it's her first outside of the world of Woven in Moonlight, but I should have had more faith in her. Everything great about her previous books is here but the story also has it's own special and unique flair. Zarela is my second favorite of her protagonists (close to XImena but not quite as good). If you like dancing, dragons, or both then this book has something for you. If you like fiery characters and/or enemies-to-lovers romances done well then this is also worth checking out. It is snugly in the middle spot if I were to rank all of this author's novels; just barely below Woven in Moonlight and just a tad above Written in Starlight.
FINAL RATING: 4.75⭐️