Crown of Feathers can’t take flight due to exposition


Nicki Pau Preto’s debut YA fantasy is bogged down by its insistence on explaining too many details of her elaborate world, but there’s still good here.

As part of Riveted by Simon Teen’s #ShelfQueens campaign, there was a lot riding on Nicki Pau Preto’s Crown of Feathers; she joined the likes of Kiersten White and Slayer, after all. There’s a lot of promise here, too, with Veronyka’s world full of shifting loyalties and priorities, lots of ancient history that still has a bearing on the present day, and even phoenixes instead of the more common dragons. (No offense to dragon fans, but phoenixes are pretty cool, too.)

However, Veronyka’s debut adventure, while offering some interesting variations on standard tropes, also comes with the fact that the book could have been significantly trimmed down. Per the Barnes & Noble information page, linked above, this book hits almost 500 pages. It could have lost at least 50 just by cutting out some of the exposition and flashbacks. Veronyka and Sev’s chapters are perhaps the worst offenders here; they both have a tendency to segue off into long reminiscences of their families or the world around them, only to actually come back to the plot after dumping this information on us.

It’s a shame, because Preto is clearly capable of subtler foreshadowing based on worldbuilding. The empire she’s created here is one that has no emperor or even ruler, due to the last heiresses both dying in a battle over the throne, and Avalkyra Ashfire, one of those sisters, plays an important part not just in how characters align themselves, but even in how Veronyka views the Phoenix Riders.

Crown of Feathers isn’t exactly a coming-of-age story so much as it’s a coming-to-terms story. Because Veronyka has spent most of her time only with Val, her sister, she has to learn how to deal with people. Her most significant relationship post-Val ends up being with Tristan, another point-of-view character who has a Phoenix Rider pedigree on both sides. Although the romantic hints are certainly there, Preto also deserves credit for not plowing full steam ahead with it or the other significant source of romantic tension in the story. That one, we won’t spoil, although again, it’s foreshadowed pretty well and actually pays off.

Indeed, Preto seems to have been very well aware of the questions of representation that are being dealt with across the YA landscape. Characters have different skin tones that are actually explained in-text, and queer relationships are part of the history of the world, not just a new thing recently accepted. Neither are specifically overplayed, either; the choices seem to have been deliberately made, then simply set as just part of the world that Veronyka and her allies live in.

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As a series, this one certainly has promise, especially with some late-book reveals. It may be tough for fantasy lovers to settle into this one, as the beginning is the roughest, but once you get further in, it becomes a little easier to skim past the exposition and enjoy the ride — or the flight, as the case may be.