Iron Heart by Nina Varela: Caffeine Tours Blog Tour

Wide header image of the cover of Iron Heart cropped to include just the title and the author name.

Title: Iron Heart (book 2 in the Crier’s War duology)

Author: Nina Varela

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Trigger Warnings: war, emotionally manipulative parent, panic attacks, anxiety, trauma related flashbacks, loss of family, blood and gore, kissing and physical contact, enslavement, body operations

Genre: sci-fi, fantasy, young adult

Publication date: 08 September 2020

Publisher: HarperTeen

Cover artist: David Curtis

Synopsis (taken from Goodreads)

An unstoppable love between two girls—one human, one Made—both set on destroying the Iron Heart.

For too long the cruel, beautiful Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing the humans who live there. But the human revolution is on the rise, and at its heart is Ayla. Once handmaiden, now fugitive, Ayla escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl Ayla had planned to kill . . . but instead fell in love with. Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, whom she believes can accomplish the ultimate goal of the human rebellion: destroy the Iron Heart. Without it, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction.

But playing at Ayla’s memory are the powerful feelings she developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among travelling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.

As their paths collide, neither are prepared for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.

In this stunning sequel to acclaimed author Nina Varela’s Crier’s War, the love that launched a revolution must now pave the way for a whole new era . . . and the ultimate change of heart. 

About The Author

Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays, short fiction, poetry, and novels. In May 2017, she graduated magna cum laude from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a BFA in Writing for Screen & Television. Crier’s War was her debut, and this is the sequel. She is originally from Durham, North Carolina, where she grew up on a hippie commune in the middle of the woods. She now lives in Los Angeles.

This is my first ever blog tour y’all and I’m about to make a goddamn FEWL of meself raving about this book…. okay let’s get into IIIIITTTT

Go check out other Iron Heart blog posts for today:

And make sure to check in with the rest of the Caffein Book Tours’ blog tour for Iron Heart this upcoming week!

First off, if you haven’t read the first book,,,the fawk are you doing here go read it.

In the first book, Crier’s War, we follow Ayla and Crier, a human and Automa respectively, as they navigate the political turmoil and upheval of a world where humans are considered subpar and are essentially relegated to serving the Automae Kind. Ayla and Crier get acquainted when Ayla gets picked to be Crier’s handmaiden after she saved Crier from falling off a cliff. Things, of course, get spicy in terms of war and conflict drama and also gays being gays.

Ayla lost her family when Sovereign Hesod (Crier’s father of sorts…he comissioned her making. that’s how Automae are created) invaded her village and set everything aflame. She’s hell bent on getting revenge by killing Crier. Hit him where it hurts, so to speak. Ayla spends the first book working for Crier, silently hating Crier, finding intel about the Sovereign and Crier’s super shady betrothed, and also spending way too much time thinking about Crier’s hair and lips and muscles. Ya know. Standard gay stuff.

On the other hand, Crier is preparing for her engagement to a political opponent and trying to establish herself as a worthy Automa, ready to take a seat at her father’s council. She begins to see cracks in her father’s grand plans when he continues to sweep aside her genuine intentions to get involved in politics and dreams of making the sovereignty of Rabu more equitable for all Kinds. She starts to question her worth as the heir especially after her fiancé, Scyre Kinok (*gag*), tells her that she is Flawed and was created with the addition human trait of Passion. She also spends a lot of time mooning over Ayla.

Poor baby suffers the entire book thinking she’s fundamentally wrong for being passionate about things (things=Ayla).

I read the first book the second I got approved for this tour.

Wait. You didn’t read this book when it came out? TF???

Yeah sorry… if I know I’m going to love a book I usually avoid it because I don’t want it to end. Don’t yell at me I know it’s ridiculous but I can’t help it.

ANYWAYS. I read it the second I got approved. Finished the book in two (2) days, PROFUSELY THANKED MY STARS FOR THE TOUR APPROVAL, and got right into book two.

My Thoughts:

FAIR WARINING: this is full of book one spoilers because this is in fact a sequel.

The book opens with Ayla and Crier apart. It made me deeply sad they weren’t in close proximity to banter but the thought of Ayla getting to spend precious time with her family was a peace offering I was willing to take. Also the thought of Ayla sassing a whole ass Queen known as the Bone Eater was incredibly amusing. The book delivered. Ayla was Not Having It with Queen Junn and her ~equality~ and it was kinda funny how hard she tried to find even the smallest problem to be angry about. Big mood.

Typically, when tensions are high in a book, I immediately pretend it is not in front of me because i am ✨anxious✨ but knowing that Ayla and Crier were going to reunite somewhere down the line kept me going. I swear to gods it was my only lifeline for so much of the early parts of the book!!! SO MUCH TENSIONNNNN

Speaking of tension, let’s talk about pacing. Nina Varela does this absolutely wonderful thing with balancing high stakes plot movement with softer emotional (read: gay) moments that kept the stress out of my shoulders. I could subconsciously process the impending doom while reading about how Crier was thinking about a singular droplet of water on Ayla’s lips. The ebb and flow of intense drama versus comic relief versus romantic tension were so well played out and seamless. It made my reading experience so much more enjoyable despite the second book having even more dramatic and tense moments than the first.

Speaking of even more tension and what’s looking to be my favourite word in this blog post, let’s talk about the principal gays of the duology. Crier and Ayla are undeniablly dysfunctional lesbians. My roommate can attest to the numerous times I randomly yelled out “OHMYGOD THEY’RE SO PAINFULLY GAY/SAPPHIC/IN LOVE!” The poor babies are literally at a loss for words when they look at each other 🥺🥺 They’re so soft!!!

The first book is chock full of angst because Ayla cannot for the life of her figure out why she can’t just poke Crier in the chest with her handy dandy knife and be done with it. And also there was only like one kiss and I was big mad about it. I wanted more.

Nina Varela probably after hearing the distant cries of unsatisfied queer readers: what’s that? wasn’t enough gay for you? the yearning wasn’t enough? okay BET

Iron heart delivers on the 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈. Early on in the book, Ayla seems to accept the fact that she’s got some conflicting feelings about Crier and just floats with it. Crier is not mad her realization that she’s got a thing for Ayla. She has in fact almost written multiple love letters (don’t be shy…release the love letters Nina) . Even when apart these girls spent like a good few paragraphs pondering their close contact moments from book one. The pining is just *clenches fist* 🥺😭🌝… babies… gaybies… smol lesbians… oof 🥺🥺

The dynamic of Tol and Soft (Crier) versus Smol and Ready to Wreck a Bitch (Ayla) had me in such peels of laughter and made me feel so fuzzy and warm at the same time. I found myself waking up at 3:30 am (after having put the book down at 3:00 am for some semblance of sleep) just to reread the super sappy and cute moments in the book. The epilogue itself can be made into wallpaper for my bedroom. I’d be able to read it whenever I wanted and in giant wall font… hmmm ideas…

In other gay news, I was pleased to see that the background queer characters were less background and got more functional roles in the second book. There were several new characters with given names, some recurring, some simply for a singular scene. So many of these new characters were non-binary, sapphic, gay, just all around queer. It was nice to read about a fantasy character, however small a role, referred to with they/them pronouns. It warms my heart to know authors are making an effort to casually diversify their ensembles.

I was super happy to see a decent amount of racial diversity and that no one was described based on food. I was thrilled to see deliberate representation. Especially in fantasy worlds, there is no excuse for racial/gender/sexual orientation homogeneity. It’s so easy to just,,,not have all a bland cast of characters, as is wonderfully exemplified in this duology.

Thematically, what really stood out to me about this book was the dialogue around appropriation and deliberate systemic oppression that followed the War of Kinds. Humans were forced to serve the Automae after a huge war, all grain and resource reserves were burned so that they couldn’t stock up for the winter, large gathering spaces were burnt down to prevent the chance of rebellion, villages were periodically razed to incite fear. There is valuable portrayal of and dialogue around how a group of people are repeatedly mistreated and broken in spirit time and again to keep them from ever gaining equality. I could see so much of actual history in these books, the research was evident.

Along the same lines of post war oppression, the Automa Sovereign Hesod’s ruling theory is Traditionalism, which is about living life the way the old humans did. In theory it seems like cultural inclusion to pay respects but the more you read about how it’s implemented, it’s clear this is superficial aesthetics. Having tea, learning to waltz, marriage ceremonies, Traditionalism is all about the optics of humanity that the Automae want to put on for show. There’s no actual respect for humans living in their land. The underlying cultural relevance and emotional importance of concepts like love, communal gatherings, celebrations, are all lost on the Automae who consider humans beneath them. The number of times I went “OPE sounds familiar” was astronomical. There’s a marked difference between cultural sharing and cultural appropriation. The distinction in the way Hesod runs his territory versus how Queen Junn runs her queendom (far more equitable and doesn’t kill humans for funsies) exemplifies that juxtaposition. Symbolic integration versus ACTUAL integration through systemic change. Something most governments might want to take a second to think about…

There is also further discussion of representation of Kinds, superiority of Automae, and complete separation and isolation from humankind. I really loved seeing the discussion of these three ideologies throughout the two books. Since it is a duology, the nuance of discussion was not as in depth as I would have liked but it was satisfactory for the span of two books.

Superiority of Automae is quite clear; Automae who are made to perfection are simply better. We know exACtly what that’s talking about. Equal representation of Kinds, something that Queen Junn and Crier aspire to implement in the first book, is the idealized “made differently but can exist in harmony” dream that is an ongoing fight. It is mentioned several times that in the Queendom of Varn, where Automae and Humans are living in relative harmony, there is still a clear distinction in who holds the wealth. Again, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This is where I would have liked more discussion. Honing in on the HOW of achieving this idea of equality would have been a fascinating read through fantasy politics.

Then I had to remind myself it’s literally two books and also kinda mostly primarily about dysfunctional lesbians so I let that be.

The last one, complete isolation of one Kind from the other, was an interesting concept that Scyre Kinok had proposed. On the surface, the idea of Automae getting out of human villages and living separately seemed actually…kinda nice. The oppressors are going to leave? Yeah bitch, sign me up. But then came the realization that all resources would also be swept away with the Automae. There’s no knowing how much of the land would be depleted with this great migration. And who’s to say that the Automae wouldn’t eradicate the humans that lived in the old villages and any that cropped up along the way. The sinister nature of Kinok’s propaganda was a slow and terrifying reveal in the first book and it just escalated further in the second. I thought Kinok was just a sleazy, power hungry, lil bitch but my god he was a full fledged villain mere chapters into the second. I love a good villain arc, more so if I can hate them without feeling bad about it.

Despite this being a duology, I loved the wealth of world building we got. The first book has a timeline, an efficient way to set the stage. Through interactions we get political dynamics, through emotional passages we get interpersonal relations and tensions, through targeted descriptions we get the bread crumb trail to larger reveals in the book. I thought Nina Varela’s world building was absolutely genius.

I tend to describe fantasies as fuzzy and dreamlike around the edges. Most of the time, I know it’s a new world therefore it’s not grounded in anything tangible. The world kinda floats around. But with both Crier’s War and Iron Heart the world building was so anchored and crisp. I knew, through the timeline and through the frequent flashbacks, that there was history to the world. The map gave me a solid landscape to visualize. When the narrative ventured into new territories or had a random romp through the forest, I was able to pull from context and flesh out the image of where the characters were and what was happening. The reading experience was so much more immersive. That feeling of disorientation when closing the book for a break was a physical sensation, I had to do the lil head shake rapid blink thing.

Nina Varela’s emotional writing style is also gorgeous. This is most apparent when Crier decides to simp. Homegirl simps every two pages. From Crier’s point of view, I could probably believe that Ayla was a full fledged angel on earth, that how hard she simped. The romantic tension between the two is so palpable. The longing gazes, the quickly averted eyes, the attention to details of what the other is doing. UGH GET MARRIED ALREADY.

I also really loved Nina Varela’s use of phrasing. Now we know that excess of certain punctuation can become a running joke but there was none of that. The sentences breathe. That’s the only way to describe it. Again, this is most apparent when the two dorks are being dorks in love. There’s hesitation in the description. A pause where there should be none but you KNOW their brain simply farted in the middle of the thought so the sentence just stopped. Sometimes you get phrases piled on like a giant stack of pancakes because there are SO MANY ways to describe the one thing and they all need to be said. It helped so much with visualizing the scene and also conveying the enormity of *shakes fist* FEELING going on in that particular moment.

Here’s one incredible quote that sums up how well Nina Varela can bring you to your knees with the feels:

I could stand anywhere in this world and I swear my line of sight would end on you. I swear I’d find you in the dark.

-Crier in Iron Heart

First off, that’s gay as fawk. Second off, I’ve read something vaguely similar to this in an adult romance and lemme tell you this one is far superior.

Catch me flailing like that one kermit gif

gif of kermit the frog in front of red curtains flailing his little puppet arms

And finally, a small photo gallery of live reactions my roommate managed to capture of me reading both Crier’s War and Iron Heart:

In conclusion, read Crier’s War and Iron Heart asap for max gay feels.

If you’ve read Crier’s War and Iron Heart let me know your thoughts in the comments 😀

Thanks for reading. Peep y’all later.

2 thoughts on “Iron Heart by Nina Varela: Caffeine Tours Blog Tour

  1. Oh my god, yes, I need those love letter. I’d sell ym soul for those. And that angst throughout the book, why? I really wish I had a physical book to toss around because I really couldn’t do that to my laptop.
    and yes, I need more about this world as well! I really hope she writes a spin off about Junn and Storme because *insert heart eyes*


    1. The angst was out of this world I was HOLLERING!!!! And yes omg Junn and Storme deserve at least a single spin off novel I need to know what’s up with the double identity Junn took on!!

      Liked by 1 person

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