Tagged: aranya

Song of the Storm Dragon by Marc Secchia

song-of-the-storm-dragon-by-marc-secchia

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The Storm is coming! The hegemony of Sylakia has been broken and freedom won, but at a shattering cost. Laid low by the vile Shapeshifter pox and Thoralian’s wiles, can Aranya rise again? For war sweeps Herimor at the touch of the Marshal’s evil claws, and he will stop at nothing to possess the ultimate power.

Now, the race is on to find the First Egg of the Ancient Dragons. Accompanied by her friends Zuziana and Ardan, and the magnificent Land Dragon Leandrial, the Star Dragoness must dive deep in her new quest. Cross the uncrossable Rift-Storm to Herimor. Stop Thoralian. Crush his ambitions. Only then will she be able to save her beloved Dragons.

Yet profound Dragon lore enshrouds her purposes. History beckons. What are the secrets of the powerful Dragonfriend and the tiny, lost Pygmy Dragoness? Why did the Dragons disappear? What became of the powerful Dragons of yore?

Arise, o Storm Dragoness! She is legend. She is the whisper of starlight upon Dragon scales. She is Aranya, and this is her song. The Song of the Storm Dragon.

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

So not only do we finally get a glimpse of the mysterious Rift in the southern Island World, we get to see Herimor.  If you’ve read the past two books in the Shapeshifter Dragon series, you know that Herimor is populated by Chameleon Shapeshifters and assassinations with various creative poisons are just a fact of life amongst the upper class.  It sounds pretty terrifying and strange but as we learn, it’s not all bad.  And not all of the Marshals are as bad as their reputations.

What I liked about finally seeing Herimor was that it showed more of Marc Secchia’s incredible world-building.  Herimor is populated by so many different species of dragons from the intensely creative Thunderous Thirty to the absolutely ludicrous Metallic Fortress Dragon.  (Yes, I know they were engineered by the Dragon-Lovers but they’re still ridiculous.)  Aside from the occasionally ridiculous dragon species, I was really impressed by Herimor.  From the variety of species to the moving islands, it really is incredible and is the perfect setting for the final showdown against Thoralian.

Aranya really undergoes a journey throughout Song of the Storm Dragon.  She has lost one of the things that defines her to other people: her physical beauty.  She was tortured by Thoralian and now has to deal with the aftermath of that.  And while overthrowing an empire isn’t easy, what comes after is often harder as she and her father try to manage the transition of power.  After decades of Sylakian rule on some islands, how can they go back to their own system of government?  What about the Dragon Shapeshifters that were rescued from Thoralian and his monstrous family?  Where will they go and what will they do?  These are hard questions with unclear solutions that will have to be dealt with while Aranya and the gang race Thoralian to Herimor to stop the First Egg from falling into his clutches.

Add into this whole mix the tension between her and Ardan.  Aranya definitely feels conflicted about her relationship with Ardan, especially after Thoralian’s torture disfigured her entire body.  While that may feel shallow, you have to remember that while she’s brought down an empire, she’s still only seventeen years old.  Being a teenager is hard enough without going from ‘so beautiful men can’t ignore you’ to ‘everyone young and old recoils when they see your face’.  On top of this, add in the fact that Ardan and Aranya’s meeting and oath swapping was pre-determined by Fra’anior himself and the two of them had very little choice in the matter.  If you’re looking for a neat ending to wrap up all of these problems, you won’t get it in this third book.  Marc Secchia is the master of ambiguity and ethical/moral grey areas so of course nothing is all that simple although both Aranya and Ardan get a little closure by the end of the novel.

The plot was fast-paced and complex with some heart-wrenching plot twists, particulary toward the end.  Still, despite the sort of cliffhanger ending it was satisfying on an emotional level and it did resolve some major plot points.  Basically, most of the main questions raised at the beginning of the book are answered by the end but there are still enough questions remaining that I’m going to be pining for the fourth book that’s coming sometime in 2017.

If you loved the previous two books, you’re going to enjoy Song of the Storm Dragon.  I can’t wait to see what happens next in Aranya’s tumultuous life.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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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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The Pygmy Dragon by Marc Secchia

The Pygmy Dragon by Marc Secchia(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Yesterday, a Dragon kidnapped me from my cage in a zoo.

Stolen from her jungle home and sold to a zookeeper, Pip knows only a world behind bars, a world in which a Pygmy warrior and her giant ape friends are a zoo attraction. She dreams of being Human. She dreams of escaping to the world outside her cage.

Then, the Dragon Zardon kidnaps her into a new life. Pip rides Dragonback across the Island-World to her new school – a school inside a volcano. A school where Humans learn to be Dragon Riders. But this is only a foretaste of her magical destiny, for the Dragon Assassins are coming. They have floated an Island across the Rift and their aim is nothing less than the massacre of all Dragons.

Now, the courage of the smallest will be tested to the utmost. For Pip is the Pygmy Dragon, and this is her tale.

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

I have to say that I fell in love with Marc Secchia’s writing just a few pages into the first book of The Shapeshifter Dragons series, Aranya.  So when he took me up on my open submission announcement, I was so excited to begin the spin-off series, Shapeshifter Dragon legends.  In Aranya we heard passing tales of a pygmy dragon while Aranya was learning about dragon lore in general, but the story of that singular occurrence was never fully fleshed out.  In The Pygmy Dragon, we get to see the Island World several decades before Aranya’s birth, when dragons roamed free and shapeshifters were respected.

Into this totally alien world to the readers of the original series is Pip, a Pygmy girl taken from her home island at a very young age to be placed in a zoo with dangerous apes that she eventually befriends.  The squalid conditions, the dehumanizing behaviour of the ‘people’ that come to the zoo to see her are all horrific and Marc Secchia shows that horror without belabouring the point.  We get a very, very clear picture of her suffering and desperation until a regular person begins to talk to her to learn about the Pygmy culture.  He treats her like a real human being and they learn from each other until the dragon Zardon whisks Pip away to a new life as a dragon rider.

You really can’t help but cheer for Pip the whole way through.  From her horrible treatment in the zoo to the bullying and tormenting she finds at the Dragon Rider Academy, you’d have to have a heart of ice not to feel for her.  Despite everything, she works so hard to prove herself every bit her fellow students’ equal and in some ways, surpasses many of them.  It’s there at the Academy where she discovers a secret that she never expected she had: she’s a Shapeshifter Dragon.  A Pygmy Dragon to be exact.  And because of her hidden power, she’s now flying around with a giant target on her back.  All of the dragons are as a war begins to brew between the different factions.

As always, Marc Secchia’s world-building is second to none.  The Pygmy Dragon can absolutely be read as a stand-alone novel, but for those of us that read Aranya before reading the spin-off series, it expands upon what we’ve learned.  We even meet some of Aranya’s friends, the unrepentantly lecherous Nak and the love of his life, Oyda.  I love how Marc Secchia finally let us see the mysterious gigantic original dragons that created all of the regular dragons.  And how he gave Pip the special power that would make her a legend.  I don’t want to give too much away, so I can’t gush as much as I would like, but needless to say you won’t find any better world-building out there in YA right now.

He also includes some pretty powerful themes without beating his readers over the head with a stick.  The theme of freedom is so central to the whole story and it makes you really appreciate just how good you really have it.  No matter how bad your life gets, you’ve never been locked up in a zoo, treated like an animal and forced to befriend animals that were once your natural enemies.  There’s also a theme of redemption throughout the novel.  Not everyone who appears to be evil is and sometimes truly bad people can be redeemed.  The little subplot with the Silver Dragon Pip meets is just one such example of that.

Marc Secchia has a beautiful writing style.  He’s able to write highly emotional scenes without getting too sappy and he can describe things beautifully without going overboard.  His descriptions of the dragons and the flourishing dragon culture at the Academy made me both happy and sad because so much of that is lost by Aranya’s time.  His characters are so vividly sketched out that you expect them to just come up and walk off the pages.  And the amount of thought he put into dragon anatomy and the descriptions of their powers, language and emotions is just amazing.

Basically, if you’re going to read any book about dragons, read The Pygmy Dragon.  I seriously can’t recommend it enough.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Promo: Shadow Dragon by Marc Secchia (Pre-Order)

 photo 23478514.jpg
By Marc Secchia
Publication Date: December 10, 2014
Series: Shapeshifter Dragons #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
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.
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Aranya by Marc Secchia

Aranya by Marc Secchia(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Chained to a rock and tossed off a cliff by her boyfriend, Aranya is executed for high treason against the Sylakian Empire. Falling a league into the deadly Cloudlands is not a fate she ever envisaged. But what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings and fly?

Long ago, Dragons ruled the Island-World above the Cloudlands. But their Human slaves cast off the chains of Dragonish tyranny. Humans spread across the Islands in their flying Dragonships, colonising, building and warring. Now, the all-conquering Sylakians have defeated the last bastion of freedom–the Island-Kingdom of Immadia.

Evil has a new enemy. Aranya, Princess of Immadia. Dragon Shapeshifter.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

As with a lot of books I seem to read, I was a little skeptical about this one from the blurb.  It had the potential to be either a totally awesome book or really suck.  Good thing for me it was the former and not the latter, right?

I am just blown away by Aranya.  The plot, the world-building, Marc Secchia’s incomparable writing and the vivid characters all come together to make this book one of the best I’ve read in quite literally years.  Considering the fact that I read around 200 books per year, that’s no small feat either.  Sometimes books take the words quite literally out of my mouth and this is one of those instances (which is why I had to write this review hours after finishing the book, just to process it).

I’ll start off with the world-building, which was fabulous.  Here we have a complex geo-political situation within an epic fantasy world!  There are various alliances and rivalries and each little island on this world has its own distinct culture and history.  Its ruling families are all different, as are their customs and languages.  At the same time, for those of you worrying that this just becomes a political thriller, don’t worry.  Marc Secchia walks the fine line between political thriller and awesome world that has complicated politics (but ones that are not the main focus of the story).  So while his world is excellently built, we never get the backstory dump that sometimes happens in similar works.

And the dragons?  Wow.  I like that despite the impossibility of somehow having more matter when you shapeshift from human to dragon, the overall concept is very well thought out.  There are limitations for people like Aranya in both forms and her dragon form is far from invincible like it is in so many other stories.  She actually has to work at developing her powers, with the help of an incurable old letch, Nak.  And her limitations as a new dragon do significantly hinder her as she goes about her journey to save Immadia and her friends/family.  It’s very well done in my opinion.

As I said, Marc Secchia’s writing is incomparable.  He can not only describe action sequences with the ease of a writer with 50+ years of experience, but can also slow down and write heartbreakingly tender moments.  At the same time, the plot never really slows down.  There’s always something going on, a hint of background tension that forces you to keep reading in order to find out what happens next.  I was sucked into the world of Aranya, feeling everything from the humidity in the jungles of the Pygmy and the cool volcanic climate where Aranya gets kidnapped inadvertently.

Last but certainly not least are the characters.  Aranya and Zip are certainly some of the more memorable characters I’ve ever read about and they defy gender stereotypes left, right and centre.  How many female characters have a serious duel nearly to the death and then become the best of friends?  Not as many as male characters, I can tell you that much.  Both of them are well-rounded and three dimensional characters, but Aranya will always hold a special place in my heart.  She’s willing to leave her family and Immadia behind in order to secure the future of her country, even if it means living in obscure exile for the rest of her natural life.  And she does it with minimal whining as well, accepting her duty to her country.  Does that mean she’ll go down without a fight?  Certainly not!  But she also doesn’t spend all her time pining after every attractive guy who crosses her path and whining about how awful her lot in life is.  It’s quite a novel concept after the many, many YA novels I’ve read with similar concepts that were far less well carried out.

I just can’t recommend Aranya enough.  Even if you’re not big into epic fantasy, I think you can still enjoy this book.  Not only are the characters some of the most memorable I’ve ever encountered, the plot was amazing and Marc Secchia’s writing is always superb.  I just don’t have anything to say but this: buy the book already!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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