Shadow Dragon by Marc Secchia

Shadow Dragon by Mark Secchia(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Chameleon Shapeshifters, uncontrollable storm powers, and the rise of Sylakia’s Dragon-elite. The battle against evil scales new heights, but the price of victory grows ever dearer.

Once, a Shadow Dragon ravaged the Island-World. Insatiable. Unstoppable. A Dragon-killer. Now the Shadow Dragon has reappeared, on a collision course with Aranya and King Beran’s campaign to liberate the Islands from the scourge of Sylakian tyranny. He is dark, beautiful and deadly, a predator of untold power.

Meantime, Thoralian weaves his web of guile and betrayal right in the hearts of Aranya’s friends and allies. He will bring them to an encounter only he can win.

Incredible aerial battles. An Ancient Dragon bent on enslaving Aranya. The treacherous secrets of Dragon magic. This is the fight for which destiny has shaped a heroine of rare courage–Aranya, Princess of Immadia. Criminal. Shapeshifter Dragon. A woman who will confront evil at any cost. Spite her at your peril.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

As you may or may not remember if you’re a regular reader of my reviews, I absolutely gushed about Aranya.  It had everything: solid and inventive world-building, a cast of characters you couldn’t help but love and a fairly fast-paced plot despite being largely character-driven.  I think I was understandably a little worried about Shadow Dragon because how could it live up to my expectations, let alone keep up the high quality of the first book?

In the end, I didn’t need to worry so much.  That unpredictable and fast-paced plot remained, the world-building was even better and I really felt for all of the characters.  It’s also a good thing I read The Pygmy Dragon first.  You don’t have to read the spin-off first but let me just say you’ll appreciate some of the plot elements way more if you do.

What I really enjoyed about Shadow Dragon was that aforementioned unpredictable and fast-paced plot.  With Aranya and her father King Beran waging war on Sylakia there are surprises around every corner and there’s nothing Thoralian wouldn’t do to stop their rebellion.  Yolathion, who has now joined the Immadian cause, is sort of a wildcard in the whole mix because although he did betray Sylakia for her, he still carries many of the attitudes from that country with him.  He doesn’t approve of things like Aranya fighting all of the time, her wearing trousers as a more practical alternative to wearing dresses during fighting, etc.  It can be extremely infuriating, just like the actions of some other characters I won’t mention, but Marc Secchia is playing a deep game here, folks…nothing is as it seems!

Where can I start with the characters?  Aranya of course is still as awesome as she was before only this time she’s helping Zip cope with her new found powers as well as dealing with the Yolathion issue.  And she’s fighting a war, which sort of puts all of the personal drama on the back burner a lot of the time.  In the first book, Aranya is a sort of spoiled Immadian princess who matures into a young woman who wants nothing more than to use her Dragon powers against Sylakia.  In the second book, we see more of a tempering of her character as she goes through trial after trial and heartbreak after heartbreak.  I don’t want to give away too much but by the end of the book, the change in Aranya is startling and very believable given all that happens to her.  Will she be able to overcome these new personal demons to defeat Sylakia in the third book?  It’s hard to say, honestly.

On a side note, one of the things that I really enjoy in Marc Secchia’s novels is that he writes incredible female characters.  Not just Aranya, but Zuziana and Kylara and even Pip from The Pygmy Dragon spin-off.  Unlike a surprising number of male writers, he makes sure that they all have believable motivations and unique personalities; they don’t just exist for the gratification of the male characters.  Yes, they have romances and relationships but they’re not the sole motivation and/or focus of the characters.  And not only that, all of the characters come from such diverse backgrounds and cultures.  There’s actual racial and cultural diversity in his novel!  Sometimes there are tensions between cultures and yet sometimes there are interracial relationships.  It’s actually kind of shocking to see such diversity in fantasy and it’s done in an unforced, believable manner.

Aranya isn’t the only main character in this novel.  We get to meet the mysterious Ardan, a man who wakes up stark naked under burned prekki-fruit tree and falls into the hands of the fearsome female warriors of the Western Isles.  He remembers very little from his past so his journey with the warriors is interesting to say the least and at times his banter with them is quite funny.  But of course in Shadow Dragon there’s a darker side to everything and as I said before nothing is as it seems in this book.  There’s far more to Ardan than meets the eye and once he meets up with our main cast of characters, the Island World will be shaken to its core by the changes he brings.

The world-building is…there are really no accurate adjectives to describe how awesome it is.  Of course there are the Dragons we met in the first book when Aranya transformed into one but we don’t know much about their history.  Why did they essentially vanish after the Second Dragon War?  And why did the Pygmy Dragon seem to do something to alter the memories of Nak and Oyda, who took part in the war?  And what is everyone to do now that there’s a Shadow Dragon loose in the Island World?  In this second book we do learn so much more about the history of dragons and the extent of their abilities in part because Aranya discovers she isn’t the only dragon outside of Thoralian’s immediate family.

Since Beran and Aranya are waging a running war against Sylakia, we also get to see a lot of the different kingdoms in the Island World, including Jeradia.  When we go to these islands you can tell just how much effort Marc Secchia has put into his world-building because all of the cultures we meet have their own history, customs and ways of making war.  Some greet Beran’s forces as liberators and others fight almost to the death which makes it far more realistic than having Aranya and her father go from island to island, liberating a jubilant populace every single time.  As I noted in my review of the first book, the Shapeshifter Dragons series nearly veers into political thriller territory simply because of how complicated the plot and world-building are.

Here in Shadow Dragon, you have everything you could possibly want in the second book of a series you love: no plot drags (particularly in the middle), believable and three dimensional characters, an expanded fantasy world and so many plot twists you won’t see the end coming.  You can’t ask for more and if the blurb or anything I’ve said in my review has intrigued you, I can’t encourage you enough to go try out the first book, Aranya.  You’re pretty much guaranteed to love it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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