Atana and the Firebird by Vivian Zhou

For the lonely mermaid Atana who loves reading about adventures but doesn't feel brave enough to go on one, meeting Ren seems like fate. Ren is a firebird who leaves her flock in order to learn more about Earth. She is a rarity and since she is alone, she is an easy target for those that want to use her powers. Atana and Ren make it to the island of the Witch Queen who offers them a safe place to live and a seemingly endless amount of books for Atana to learn about her past. The Witch Queen is very interested in Ren's powers because when the Firebirds all decided to leave Earth they caused a major magical leak that she is trying to fix. Ren could be the key to saving magic but how far will the Witch Queen go to obtain it?

Positives: Conceptually I felt like Atana and the Firebird could be adapted into a Pixar movie (it reminded me a little of Luca) or even a Miyazaki film. I grew more and more intrigued by what Atana's prophecy was that kept her from her home as I read on although, I was hoping for more of a conclusion to that plot point by the end of the story. I enjoyed Atana's friendship with Ren and Cosmos (a witch on the island). They all had their own struggles and secrets, making them well-developed characters to follow. Ren shined mostly at the end of the story when there was a big reveal that I think really made the story all the more interesting. There were a couple of LGBTQ+ character relationships that made small appearances that created new plot points that will be exciting to explore more in the next book. Visually, the artwork was a treat. The color design throughout was beautiful as well as cozy which I can see readers of all age ranges being drawn to.

Negatives: I wish Atana and Ren were able to explore more islands before landing on the Witch Queen's island. I was expecting more of an adventure story but it felt like there was more talking than doing. The author has set readers up for more of an adventure in the sequel so there is that to look forward to. I think based on where everything is going this would have done better as a trilogy where in the second book our characters would have gone on the Witch Queen's island and the first would have been more island exploration, evading capture, and reveals about the characters' past. 

Final Thoughts: Although I would have preferred more adventure, I was drawn to each of the characters' motives and character development. Conceptually and visually, Atana and the Firebird nailed it out of the park. There is a whimsical nature that I think middle-grade readers who love fantasy worlds will love. Overall, the setup for the next book makes it sound like it's going to be fantastic. I am curious to see how our heroes' stories end. 

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for providing me with a copy of Atana and the Firebird in exchange for an honest review.


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