Royal Romance and Equal Partnership: Dana Swift’s Wickery Series
Dana Swift’s Wickery series is what would happen if you mix the intricacies of the underworld and the court of glass throne, the jailbreaks and mastermind plans of Six of Ravensand added a fair amount of beloved romantic tropes to the mix.
There are currently two books in the series. The first one, Thrown into the firelight was released in January 2021 and Bound by firelight followed in 2022. In the author’s own words, the books “combine the character-driven fun of a romantic comedy with the tension of a fast-paced adventure fantasy”.
The continent of Wickery, which gives the series its name, is divided into different kingdoms seemingly at peace with each other. Our protagonists, Adraa and Jatin are the respective heirs of two regimes, Belwar and Naupure. Engaged from a young age, the two haven’t seen each other in a decade, though they’ve stayed in touch by letter, sparking an endless competition where they constantly try to outdo each other. Adraa is determined to hate her fiance but, in a triumph of dramatic irony, their reunion happens by pure chance as they both pretend to be other people. This leads to an inevitable but endearing misunderstanding that covers almost the entire first book.
They bond under the safety of their fake identities, relieved of the pressure of their respective titles and responsibility to each other. Ironically, by both lying about who they are, they get the chance to really get to know each other, without the semblance of competition they’ve kept in their correspondence.
Through classic tropes like rivals to lovers, and with a dual first-person perspective, we watch the story unfold through the eyes of the two main characters. Adraa has been training for years to lead her people. As a royal princess, she is also expected to master the nine colors of magic, even though she is blessed by the goddess of fire. Adraa provides her people with warmth and power through her invention – firelight – in an embodiment of servitude, almost like a mythological fisher king whose power is tied to the prosperity of her people. Firelight acts as an equalizer and brings much-needed stability to lower-class citizens in a society where [sic] the differences are extremely clear.
Obviously, there are criminals in the black market hoarding and profiting from her firelight, but Adraa’s love for her people knows no bounds. To unveil these intrigues, she has forged a false identity as the founder of an underground cage and has cultivated a legend around this glorious underworld figure that will delight fans of Celaena Sardothien.
While her story is primarily about social justice and overcoming her own fears, Jatin’s chapters complement hers by delivering what is essentially an endearing romance novel. He too becomes involved in the underworld and becomes an unsung hero to the people, but only because he is fascinated by Jaya Smoke, Adraa’s vigilante alter ego; then falls in love with her and agonizes over it, torn between Jaya’s passion for their now common cause and her loyalty to Adraa herself.
The world-building is delightfully complex, especially when it comes to the refreshing magic system; magic is elementary, each power being linked to a deity and a color. Only half the population of Wickery is magically gifted; each touchdown has a strength and the potential to wield various elements, while the untouched suffer from prejudice, inequality and injustice. The most powerful witches and wizards can wield all nine elements, which creates conflict for Adraa’s insecurity: she’s getting dangerously close to her initiation ceremony and she still hasn’t mastered ice magic, which is coincidentally Jatin’s forte. She could train more, but her crusade to protect her people, fight inequality, and neutralize criminal threats takes priority and ultimately results in her own demise.
Between the end of Thrown into the firelight and the start of Bound by firelight, Adraa loses its freedom and the trust of its people. Eventually, she loses her voice. The two books blend seamlessly into each other and the transition is barely palpable if you read the books one after the other. In an exclusive interview I conducted for Tor.com, Swift revealed that a few scenes were actually moved from book to book, “so the crossover between where a book ends and the ‘other begins was fluid’. One difference, however, is that the second book is unmistakably darker and more heavily plotted, with more twists, delving deeper into corruption and political intrigue, as well as the nature of magic and its limits. The stakes are higher and our heroes face much tougher choices, forced to adapt to impossible situations; they must submit a part of their innocence and sacrifice it to the pain inflicted on them.
Bound by firelight introduces more complex themes like guilt and grief, and new morally gray scene-stealing characters that leave us wondering about their allegiances until the end. It also highlights disability through two characters who are bound to be absolute fan favorites. Honestly, I’d gladly take another 200 pages if we could dig deeper into the backstories and psyches of all the supporting characters.
I confess that given the light tone of the beginning, I expected the second novel to open with a wedding of Adraa and Jatin or to find them already established in domesticity after a time jump, but Swift didn’t bow to genre or fanservice expectations and kept her readers on their toes for a reunion, a kiss, a much-anticipated proposal. The sweet romance between the main characters, though less prominent in the second book, is still central to the story. Adraa and Jatin are perfectly matched and in perfect opposition, as can be seen from the ice and fire hues that surround them in the book covers designed by the brilliant Charlie Bowater.
Adraa is headstrong but not without insecurities, as any teenage girl has a right to be, “complex and inspiring” in the words of the author, and Jatin was created as “her equal, embodying qualities and struggles that are relatable, but not toxic”. even for a smug teenager who is used to being successful. Swift revealed that she really wanted to write a romantic relationship based on “equality and partnership, where they spend the book not just falling in love with each other, but understanding each other.” And she certainly did.
Wickery’s frame is easily recognizable in Indian code and it was heavily inspired by South Asian customs. Swift wrote extensively in her author’s notes about her gratitude to her husband’s family for welcoming her so warmly into their world and for their support of his books. The author felt the need to write this tale for his children, offering them a “fun fantasy romance with characters who look like them”. During our interview, she admitted that the idea of her children taking her first published book and not seeing themselves depicted in it didn’t sit well with her.
The series is technically YA, and its smooth writing is a blissful respite from our world; easy to follow for teens and perfect for those transitioning from mid-level novels to young adult, but enjoyable enough for everyone. I also haven’t seen chapter titles as sassy as these since…Percy Jackson, maybe?
Right now, Wickery is a duology, albeit a deliberately open one, because Swift has a lot more ideas for these beloved characters and I really hope their story continues. In the meantime, she revealed she’s been working on a standalone YA fantasy, a loose and fun retelling of Hades and Persephone. It’s still a work in progress, but I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
Federica Bocco is a writer and editor who enjoys reading and watching all things magic. She writes for a number of international publications and can usually be found at @ladymultifandom on Twitter.