Review: Roar (book one of the Stormheart series), Cora Carmack


Cora Carmack’s Roar might get its title from an inadvertent self-naming, but its main character does end up earning the name.

Roar dances perilously close to two stereotypical plot devices in young adult fiction: the love triangle, and the special heroine. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that “dances” is the correct term when both appear on the front flap of the book’s dust jacket.

Here’s a rough summary: Our heroine, Aurora, is the princess of a city-state arranged to marry a prince who has serious magical power to his name. It means quite a bit when storms can take the form of fire, or fog, or wind, or skyfire (lightning). Their stormhearts (also the name of the greater series) provide power for those who dare to take them. But he’s not the only handsome man around who has stormhearts. Aurora, renaming herself “Roar”, heads out beyond her palace and finds a lot more than she bargained for.

But Carmack does not restrict our experience of Caelira to just Aurora/Roar, to the benefit of the book. She takes us into the heads of Prince Cassius as well as Locke, the two aforementioned men. Novaya, the princess’ childhood friend and a servant in the castle, has her time to shine, and there’s a fourth perspective as well. That helps Carmack build the world up, exposing different aspects through each of her characters. Even Cassius, who is not the greatest guy ever, has his own interesting points.

Let’s tackle the topic of the love triangle. By virtue of where the plot goes, Aurora doesn’t have to waffle. Carmack doesn’t shy away from making her have fluttering feelings for the prince, but we get to see things happen from both perspectives — which again helps move back from that line of stereotypes. Heading into Locke’s head, however, makes it seem as though he has feelings almost too quickly. He and Aurora’s romance is pretty standard, but when something’s familiar, the execution matters. Fortunately, the execution is good.

And now to the topic of the special heroine. By virtue of being a princess, Aurora’s special. She has white-blonde hair. (In fact, one has to suspect that the cover artist had Daenerys Targaryen in mind when designing it.) She’s tall. She doesn’t seem to have any magical abilities when she really should have them.

But she uses three names throughout the book — Rora is the third — and Carmack uses them interchangeably to help denote which aspects of this central character we’re seeing at any given time. It certainly helps guide a reader to which things you should be looking for, and the sections centering on her heroine make sure to hit the point just be extra sure. But now that it’s all set, a second book (and there’s room for a second book, and probably a third) likely won’t need to have so much in the way of that juggling.

As the book develops further, other plot points again make it seem that she’s going to be too special again. However, again, Carmack shifts away just at the last minute.

Carmack also gets away with quite a bit of exposition thanks to Aurora’s general isolation. That won’t fly a second time. However, Aurora’s also quite intelligent. That means that said exposition also doesn’t feel too much like exposition. It balances well for now.

Next: Review: The Space Between the Stars, Anne Corlett

Roar‘s central characters are old enough to make them intriguing even to non-teen readers. The world of Caelira has a lot more to offer than it does at first glance. Pick it up if you need a new summer fantasy — or if you need another heroine in your life.