When I read Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto last year, it made me want a phoenix. Heart of Flames, the sequel, makes me want to be a Phoenix Rider.

~Heart of Flames is book two in a trilogy so there may be slight spoilers for book one below. Check out my review for book one, Crown of Feathers, instead.~

Veronyka has finally been welcomed as Phoenix Rider, but as war brews on the horizon, she finds herself torn between her training, protecting the vulnerable villages in the empire’s path, and the fiery hold Val has on her mind. Tristan has been promoted to a Master Rider but finds himself continually at odds with his father’s decisions for the Riders. Sev continues to spy on the empire but fears maintaining his cover will lead him to make decisions that go against the side he’s fighting for. As the three struggle to fight for what they believe, they are once more drawn into a fight that will shape the future of the empire and the Phoenix Riders forever.

Just like the first book, this was incredible. I love the idea of riding phoenixes into battle. It’s almost as cool as dragons. But what I like most about the story, other than the phoenixes, is how rich and immersive the world-building is. There are so many threads and complicated relationships and ties to the past that the world feels authentic and real. Paired with the beautiful prose, the story really takes flight, expanding the world and characters at the same time.

Like the first book, this story is told from multiple POVs, even more than the first. While at times switching POVs so often made the pacing slow, I like that it allows us to see the story from every side—good and bad. Each of the points of view also brings focus to the story. Yes, the characters are separated—sometimes by miles—but they come together in the end and build up an explosive finale (literally).

The romantic tension is also smoldering. Too many YA books rush romantic relationships despite having multiple books for the relationship to grow. But Nicki Pau Preto is a master at balancing character growth alongside relationships. Tristan and Veronyka had the beginning of attraction in book one, which grows in book two but isn’t rushed. It was almost too slow at times because I just wanted to take the two of them and say, “JUST KISS ALREADY!”

Veronyka’s other relationships are just as tense and complicated. More is revealed about her past and her connection to the former Phoenix Rider queen. And even though some of her choices about Val aren’t the best, it doesn’t come across as stupid and naive as other YA books. Instead, Veronyka grows from her mistakes and becomes stronger. She is an incredible and fierce female character, and I love how Nicki Pau Preto chose to show the different sides to her personality.

This is a long book and a lot of stuff happens. The world-building, the characters, the phoenixes—it’s amazing. And the way that book ended… I need the next one!

~I received an early digital copy of Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.~