Review: Together We Burn – Isabel Ibañez
by Isabel Ibañez
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: May 31, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come for miles to see her father fight in their arena, which will one day be hers.
But disaster strikes during their five hundredth anniversary show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s father is horribly injured. Facing punishment from the Dragon Guild, Zarela must keep the arena—her ancestral home and inheritance —safe from their greedy hands. She has no choice but to take her father’s place as the next Dragonador. When the infuriatingly handsome dragon hunter, Arturo Díaz de Montserrat, withholds his help, she refuses to take no for an answer.
But even if he agrees, there’s someone out to ruin the Zalvidar family, and Zarela will have to do whatever it takes in order to prevent the Dragon Guild from taking away her birthright.
An ancient city plagued by dragons. A flamenco dancer determined to save her ancestral home. A dragon hunter refusing to teach her his ways. They don't want each other, but they need each other, and without him her world will burn.
I would never have linked flamenco dancing and dragon fighting, but honestly, it really works! This historical fantasy romance has a lot of things going for it, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
“Dragonadores exist to show the people of Hispalia that dragons can be beat. We can have victory against the formidable beasts. People are attacked every day, villages destroyed by fire, children murdered in their sleep. We fight to give hope.”
Zarela grew up in La Giralda, the most famous dragon fighting arena in Santivilla, and a child of famous parents. Her father is quite possibly the best dragonador in the city and her mother was unquestionably the best flamenco dancer. But after her death in an accident in the arena, things have been gradually falling apart. When the unthinkable happens during their 500th anniversary performance, Zarela’s father is injured and the future of La Giralda is at risk. The only answer? To fight in the arena herself. But to do that, she’ll need training and dragons. But the only person she can find doesn’t want anything to do with dragon fighting or her. With money running out and the city turning against them, can Zarela save her home and her family’s livelihood?
“You’re no quitter,” he says firmly. “I’ve never met anyone so stubborn in all my life.”
“Take a look in the mirror.”
It’s hard not to admire Zarela. She starts out as a spoiled and somewhat self-absorbed young woman. Sure, she’s worked hard to learn her mother’s dances, worked hard to give their audiences a glimpse of her mother again, but her greatest problem is never being able to do any original dances without getting booed. But when everything falls apart, she leaps into action, desperate to save the only home she’s ever known. She’s fiercely loyal to her family and everything they stand for. Tradition is a guiding force for Zarela, both in that this is the life her family chose and is famous for, and in keeping the dragonador fights going, even while others protest that it’s cruel and dangerous. But as the book progresses, Zarela slowly finds a way to stay both stay true to her heritage and make her own path. She’s brave, as well. Ever since she saw a dragon kill her mother in front of her, Zarela has been terrified of dragons. Even knowing that it’s the only way to save her family, Zarela struggles to not freeze when she sees one, but despite that, she’s still determined to learn dragon fighting.
Zarela encounters Arturo while looking to purchase dragons and, perfect, he’s a dragon hunter who trained as a dragonador! Except Arturo never wants to get in the ring again and he certainly wants nothing to do with her plan. But once Zarela stubbornly decides that he’s who she needs, well, good luck. Arturo’s prickly, scowling and stubborn – though not as stubbon as Zarela. He’s rude but he never crosses the line into cruel, and in fact goes out of his way – at great personal cost – to save her life more than once. While the reasons why he refuses to fight are just one of his many secrets, Zarela can’t help but be drawn to him, even if she’s convinced he thinks she’s nothing more than a spoiled princess who’s going to get herself killed.
“So are you.”
“But you are so much worse.”
It shouldn’t be a surpise by now that I adore an enemies-to-lovers romance, especially with a heroine who gives as good as she gets, and this definitely delivered on that. There’s a lot of pining, a lot of scorching glances (is it hate? is it love? why not both?) a lot of “oh no we can’t!” They antagonize each other constantly, but also in a way that pushes them closer to their goal. When it becomes obvious that they both have feelings for the other, Zarela pushes for more, but Arturo refuses, warning her that his secrets make any relationship between them impossible. Though it had some decent banter, though, it unfortunately still felt a bit lacking to me. Most of their conversations revolved around training, plus a lot of actions over words, and it left me wanting more conversations about things that were not dragons.
The worldbuilding was so unique. Based on a sort of historical Spain, it has both flamenco dancing and bits based on matador training, like the red cape. The magic, though we don’t get to see too much of it, is interesting and unusual as well, mostly consisting of wands charmed with encantos that are released when the wand is snapped. Some are good for cooling, some for repairing objects, and some for murder. I loved the food as well, lots of olives and jamón and goat cheese that had my mouth watering.
As for cons, well, it never quite lived up to its promise and was a bit cookie cutter. Dramatic parent death? Check. Plucky heroine? Check. Brooding hero-with-secrets? You guessed it, check. All the “twists” are predictable and the villain’s motivations were ridiculous. The pacing is off, as well – the beginning is slow, the middle tedious, and the last quarter jam-packed with action. Perhaps because of that the book never really sucked me in, either. But what it does have? Dragons, intrigue and a smoldering enemies-to-lovers romance, and that was enough to make it an enjoyable read for me.
Overall, 3.5 stars. While it’s not as deep as I could’ve wanted, this is another good beach read!
Content notes: View Spoiler »death of a parent (on page), death of parents from illness (before book starts), death from fire/smoke, murder, grief, PTSD, animal cruelty/death, misogyny, alcohol « Hide Spoiler