The Blurb On The Back:
Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things …
Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she’s sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the terrible deed she committed as a child.
One that almost destroyed her city, and left her with a terrible scar.
She wears her scar with pride, but to others, her skin tells a story of devastation, of fiery deaths, of Asha’s irredeemable wickedness.
Only the death of Kozu, the First Dragon, will bring Asha true redemption and unite her father’s fractured kingdom. But no one battles Kozu and lives, so to defeat him she will have to do some very wicked things …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
18-year-old Asha is the daughter of the Dragon King, ruler of Firgaard, but the people hate and fear her because 8 years ago, she was responsible for summoning the feared dragon, Kozu, with forbidden stories and as a result, the dragon destroyed half the city and left Asha badly scarred. To rehabilitate Asha’s reputation, the Dragon King named her the Iskari (bringer of death) sending her out to kill dragons in atonement while at the same time betrothing her to Jarek, the ambitious and grasping commandant (commander of the Dragon King’s soldats).
The only person who actually seems to care about Asha is her cousin, Safire, but she is a slave without any power due to being the product of an illegal romance between Asha’s uncle and a slave girl. Then a dragon hunt goes wrong, Asha finds herself needing the help of Jarek’s impertinent slave Torwin (a member of the skral who were forced into slavery after an attempted revolt against the Dragon King) who seems to see beyond her reputation and asks questions that she doesn’t want to answer.
When the Dragon King offers to cancel Asha’s engagement if she can bring him the head of Kozu, she knows that she can only do so if she tells the same stories that are forbidden by her father – stories that will die out forever if Kozu is killed …
Kristen Ciccarelli’s debut YA fantasy (the first in a trilogy) features solid world building, plenty of action and an interesting main character who is forced to question who she is and while I am not a romance fan, the inevitable love affair is sweetly depicted and Ciccarelli puts enough spin on the usual YA tropes to ensure that there’s enough for me to want to read the sequel.
Asha has many of the angsty elements of YA fantasy novels – motherless and self-hating, she’s grown up blaming herself for the disaster that happened to her father’s kingdom. However, I liked the fact that Ciccarelli doesn’t make her an unlikely liberal keen to right the obvious wrongs in her father’s kingdom – and indeed, her determination to uphold slavery and kill dragons despite the occasional feelings of disquiet they give her – makes her character development more interesting over the course of the book. I also enjoyed the dynamic that this gives her initial relationship with Torwin because Ciccarelli does at least address the power inequality between the two rather than brushing over it. I’m not a romance fan in general but the way the relationship inevitably plays out is fairly sweet if you’re into that kind of thing.
The world building is well done with Ciccarelli weaving in many complicated elements in terms of politics, societal structure and religion. One of the things I especially liked was how Ciccarelli doesn’t posit that a revolution will immediately change society for the better as some people will always be unhappy with the change and she’s one of the few writers I’ve come across who points out how dependent a society can become on slave ownership. Also good is how Ciccarelli weaves in the dragon elements with the religion and story telling traditions of the people and how the political upheaval of recent years has seen those traditions break down. Ciccarelli’s use of stories to provide backstory is particularly effective in this regard as they add depth without slowing down the plot pacing.
My main complaint about the book is that Jarek and the Dragon King are a little underdeveloped on the page – especially Jarek who is a bog standard control freak who views Asha as a possession to be conquered, which I found a little boring – while the Dragon King isn’t really on the page enough to get a sense of his character until the end (which is a shame because there were a number of unanswered questions at the end of the book about his actions that I’m hoping will be answered in the remaining books).
This aside, the book has an interesting ending that leaves plenty of directions for the sequel to go in and Ciccarelli’s writing is such that I will definitely be checking it out.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.