[Image description: A book cover, the background is yellow and the text black. In the middle is a black ring and four stylized dragons in the middle.]
Author: Amelia Smith
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this e-book in exchange for a fair review.
Darna shouldn’t have been born – priestesses aren’t supposed to have babies – and she most certainly shouldn’t see dragons. After all, no one else does, except in Anamat, or so the minstrels say.
She sets out for the city of Anamat. Along the way, she meets Myril, an older girl with frequent premonitions and an eerie sense of hearing.
Then there’s Iola, who is so dragon-struck that she actually wants to be a priestess. She’s blind to the corruption in the temples.
Thorat is Iola’s champion. He sees dragons as much as the girls do, but unlike them he blends easily in to a crowd.
Apart from these four, the city seems to be nearly as dragon-blind as the provinces. Darna scavenges for scraps, but apprenticeships cost more than she’s likely to earn. When she’s offered a sack of gold beads for a small bit of thieving, she takes her chances… and ends up angering the dragon herself.
Good job book you have done the near-impossible; made me interested in a series.
This is a very character driven book, not the sort of thing you often see in high fantasy. If you’re expecting sword fights and overly powerful wizards—look elsewhere. Honestly the book is mostly concerned about crafting characters for likely a long-standing series and only just tipping the toes into an over-arching storyline. The finale is…underwhelming for how much build-up there was. Nevertheless if you prefer slice-of-life and very intricate plots, this is a book for you.
The plot follows four main characters, four “scrapplings” or young adults just set adrift into the world. For the peasant class in this society seems to expect young adults to fully find their way by either learning their parents’ trade or going to a city to learn another one. The three girls we meet however are “dragon-touched”, as in they have the potential for being priestess for having some capacity to interact with dragons.
Most of the plot however is concerned with the four just trying to survive on the streets long enough to either earn enough to be accepted into an apprenticeship or be accepted into a temple at mid-Summer. The narrative voices are each distinct and well rounded. The tone of the prose is more slanted towards Young Adult so we don’t have the pathos or complex characterizations we may expect in epics but each character adds their voice to the story and have a clear stake in the events around them. They’re interesting in their interactions and motives.
Nevertheless the one who carries the story is Darna, the red-headed runaway Prince’s daughter whose story almost resembles Cinderella in that she works in the palace kitchen when we meet her. Nevertheless her selfishness and natural aloofness set her far apart from any self-sacrificing heroine. She’s often insensitive and outright mean, even though she does realize when she’s been unkind. She’s a character with a great deal of potential who I like to keep following.
The only real problem I have is in regards to Darna’s chronic injury. Her leg was apparently crushed by a boar as a child and never healed properly. While Smith does a better job than most authors in remembering she has an injury and resulting limitations; she doesn’t quite capture how day to day life is with such an injury.
I have a similar chronic injury in that I have a nerve injury in my right leg and hip that leads to muscle weakness and numbness. Personally for me it is very tiring to walk on two legs because basically even with a cane as one leg is doing all the weight bearing (as seems to be the same for Darna if her weak leg is withered from atrophy) and thus more work. I could not walk for hours like Darna apparently does without several breaks. Never mind how painful a bone injury that didn’t set properly would be. There would be bone pain and possibly chronic inflammation as nerves and muscles were rubbed against or pinched by an out-of-place bone. Yet Darna apparently doesn’t have any pain, even in the cold and wet. A little bit more research in portraying the disabled and acknowledging what our lives are really like would be nice.
Also the book does use the word “cripple”. I wouldn’t call this offensive necessarily but I know how some people feel about it.
Though in sum I was quite captured by this book and look forward to more from the author.