NetGalley is always a source of fascination to me, and this particular one looked like it was going to be a stonker – dragons! Kickass lady! Killer princess! Also, the cover art is pretty spectacular.
As a debut, though, it’s good, but not mind-blowingly wonderful. Ciccarelli clearly has a lot of potential, but there were a lot of weaknesses in this to go with its strengths.
In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.
These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.
Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.
Asha is the daughter of the dragon king, and the famed (and feared) dragon-killer. Iskari, her title, marks her out as the bringer of death, counterpart to the legendary Namsara, a figure which has appeared throughout the history of their country, bringer of light and love.
Trying to escape an arranged marriage to a controlling man she despises, Asha is tasked with finding and killing the oldest and greatest of the dragons – Kozu. Along the way, she meets and befriends a slave belonging to her betrothed, and what they discover as she hunts Kozu will change everything for her.
Generally, I did quite like this book. Asha was flawed, and stubborn, and really quite reluctant to see what was in front of her half the time. She was also independent, fiercely loyal, and a kickass dragon slayer. But I felt like the background in this book was lacking – it’s not really ever explained how or why sentiment turned against dragons, and why Asha is the only dragon killer out there. Why isn’t everyone running around killing dragons, if they’re so terrible?
Besides Asha and the slave, there’s not a lot of development of the characters in the book. Safire, Asha’s cousin, who is introduced very early on, has no agency or agenda of her own. She exists only as a foil to Asha and as an example of what happens when slaves fall in love with freemen.
As well as that, I wasn’t all that enamoured with the central romance of the book. Despite being advertised on the strapline of the book (in fact, it’s the first thing mentioned), it doesn’t feel like it’s developed or organic in any real way. In fact, I’m not sure they even really liked each other, let alone it being a world-changing love.
Basically, although there were lots of things in this book that I really liked, from the flawed, stubborn, headstrong, kickass main character to the actual dragons themselves, once you get to meet them, there was also a fair amount lacking. There was also a substantial amount of infodumping, in the form of the forbidden stories. At no point did Ciccarelli have to really worry about organically weaving the history of her world into her narrative, because she could just include a story at the end of the chapter which would do it for her.
Despite that, this was quite an enjoyable book, with some heartwrenching moments of shadow, and I will look out for the sequel, when it comes. Also, despite being the first in a series, the plot in this goes through a natural arc, and ends in a solid place – ripe for a followup, but with a satisfying conclusion to the plot threads of this particular story.