(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Stabbed. Burned by a dragon. Abandoned for the windrocs to pick over. The traitor Ra’aba tried to silence Hualiama forever. But he reckoned without the strength of a dragonet’s paw, and the courage of a girl who refused to die.
Only an extraordinary friendship will save Hualiama’s beloved kingdom of Fra’anior and restore the King to the Onyx Throne. Flicker, the valiant dragonet. Hualiama, a foundling, adopted into the royal family. The power of a friendship which paid the ultimate price.
This is the tale of Hualiama Dragonfriend, and a love which became legend.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Beautiful. Enchanting. Hilarious. Tragic. Touching. Empowering.
You could use any of those words to describe Dragonfriend but in truth to do this book justice you’d have to use them all. It is so many different things woven together into one book that you can’t help but fall in love with Hualiama as well as her companions Flicker (the dragonet) and Grandion (the dragon).
Hualiama is one of those characters that you’ll never forget after finishing the book. In the beginning she’s nothing but a royal bastard, the half-daughter of the king who stands up to his captain-of-the-guard, the usurper of the Onyx Throne. She doesn’t even particularly like her father but she likes Ra’aba even less and for her trouble she gets her back and stomach sliced open before being tossed off the Dragonship to die. But thanks to Flicker breaking her fall, carrying her to safety and patching her up, Hualiama isn’t so easy to get rid of. (If you don’t know, dragonets aren’t much bigger than a couple of feet long and just a little bigger in wingspan so for Flicker to carry a human, even a tiny one, it was a huge sacrifice on his part.) As Flicker nurses her back to health and teaches her to speak in a civilized manner—Dragonish, of course—she grows stronger and more and more determined to seek revenge against the man who deposed her family. No one in her family save for her adoptive mother may like her, but Hualiama loves them with a fierce, protective sort of love that leads her to the gates of hell and back in her quest.
What I found really interesting about Dragonfriend is that it’s set 425 years before the ‘main series’, Shapeshifter Dragons. It’s set almost 275 years before the spin-off series, Shapeshifter Dragon Legends. So all of the technology that’s introduced first in Legends and then in the main series is just in its infancy. There are no meriatite-fuelled Dragonships; they’re powered by the back-breaker, the machine that soldiers have to pedal in order to keep the ship moving. Dragons and humans have no contact with one another whereas in Legends it’s the peak of Dragon Riders and in the main series the Dragon Rider era has waned and dragons are hunted. You really don’t have to read Aranya and Shadow Dragon from the main series or The Pygmy Dragon from the spin-off in order to appreciate Dragonfriend, but it does make the whole experience more enjoyable. However, if you start with Dragonfriend, go to The Pygmy Dragon and then move on to Aranya and Shadow Dragon, you’ll actually be reading the series in the in-universe chronological order. So really, either way works and whether this is your first Marc Secchia book or not, you’ll really appreciate the sheer amount of detail he puts into all of his world-building.
One of the things that constantly surprises me is Marc Secchia’s ability to write from a female perspective so believably. He creates these amazingly strong characters but they’re not all Action Girls! Hualiama tries to fight but is hopelessly clumsy and has to really, really work at it. Pip from The Pygmy Dragon was born gifted at fighting but is at a huge disadvantage because of her small size. Aranya is better than Hualiama but that’s because her father made absolutely sure she became good at fighting whereas Hualiama’s father the king actively discouraged Hualiama’s more masculine pursuits. Each female main character has her own journey to womanhood in unique ways and Hualiama’s is just so amazing. She goes through so much in order to achieve her goals and even though she tries her hardest, sometimes (much like in the real world) things don’t work out. Her life is one of pure happiness and pure tragedy and even though I’m not a very emotional reader I must admit I balled my eyes out at the ending of this book. I defy anyone not to become attached to Hualiama throughout this book. It’s impossible because Marc Secchia not only writes believable and diverse female characters, his writing has such an emotional quality that you won’t be able to remain impassive during their struggles. You’ll really be rooting for Hualiama, trust me. Even when she makes mistakes, you’ll root for her.
The plot starts off pretty fast-paced compared to the other three books in the Island World and although it does slow down in terms of action, it always remains interesting. There’s always that undercurrent of tension as Hualiama is rehabilitated and learns from Flicker and it helps that the point of view changes quite naturally between the two friends. With any other characters I’d say changing points of view with no clear page break would be nothing but trouble but the points of view of Flicker and Hualiama are so different that you’ll never get confused. There’s a tremendous difference between a dragonet and a human being and the difference is even more pronounced when our dragon, Grandion, joins the story. The point of view switches definitely keep things interesting but in reality you could have had the whole book from Hualiama’s point of view and it would still be able to keep readers’ attention. It really is just a fascinating story with so many plot twists your head will spin.
If you haven’t already guessed, I really did love this book. This is definitely one of my top 10 favourites of all time and considering I read on average 200 books per year, that’s really saying something. It’s an incredible book and everyone should buy it. It will make you laugh, cry and just generally have an amazing time. The cliffhanger will also make you as eager as I am for the next book. If my review has intrigued you at all, please go and pre-order Dragonfriend on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It’s only $3.20 and $3.49 respectively and you absolutely won’t regret it.
I give this book 5/5 stars.