Tagged: dragons

Dragon Thief by Marc Secchia

Dragon Thief by Marc Secchia

(Cover picture courtesy of Amazon.)

Kal was not a thief. He certainly did not intend to steal any dragon’s treasure.

He was an adventurer. Avid art collector. Incurable wealth adjuster and risk-taker. Kal had legendary expertise in the security arrangements of palaces and noble houses the world over. He hankered for remote, craggy mountaintops and the dragon hoards he might find hidden beneath them. Besides, what harm was there in looking? Dragon gold was so … shiny.

Most especially, he was not planning for any treasure to steal him.

That was a little awkward, to say the least.

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

Dragon Thief starts with our loveable rogue Kal foolishly trying to steal a dragon’s horde and finding a gorgeous, naked woman amongst the treasure.  What’s a rogue to do?  Does he rescue her as well or is this some sort of trap set up by the dragon?  What could a dragon possibly want with some random woman?  Well, as Kal finds out there’s more to the woman than meets the eye because the woman, Tazithiel, is a Shapeshifter.  And although she’s not happy about a thief in her hoard, things take an interesting turn and the two work out a mutually beneficial truce that turns into a friendship, then something more.

Both Kal and Tazithiel have problematic pasts and both have huge trust issues.  Kal has trust issues by virtue of his chosen profession while Tazithiel has a horrific past filled with abuse because of her shapeshifter status.  Yet they come together with a fascinating goal: to find out what’s on the other side of the 25 league tall mountains that encircle the Island World.  Is there a world beyond there containing something other than islands surrounded by poisonous clouds?  What manner of creatures live beyond the Rim-Wall Mountains?  Obviously Kal and Tazi’s journey isn’t as straightforward as they’d like, but they do find answers in an interesting way by the end of the book.

Marc Secchia has brought his trademark painstaking care to world-building once again.  Not only do we learn so much more about various islands and cultures within the Island World, we learn a lot more about dragon lore and the fate of Aranya and the Sylakian Empire.  There are also more technological innovations than we saw in any of the previous books because Dragon Thief takes place 311 years after Aranya, which was the most recent book in the Island World’s long timeline.  I don’t want to give away too much, especially if you’ve read the previous books in the same world, but let’s just say some things have changed tremendously while others will never change.  Especially people/dragons.

While the beginning is a bit slow after Tazithiel decides not to eat Kal on the spot, the beautiful writing style keeps things interesting as the two new lovers work out their issues.  After that, the plot speeds up quite a bit because dragons aren’t exactly the kind of creatures that are welcome everywhere in the Island World.  And once Kal introduces Tazi to some of his friends and associates…let’s just say things get interesting as Tazi discovers a whole difference side of our thief.  Best of all, throughout the book there is Marc Secchia’s trademark humour that had me quite literally laughing out loud at some points.  So while there are some pretty heavy themes in Dragon Thief, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Although there’s no official sequel set, the ending is satisfying yet leaves a little wiggle room if Secchia wants to continue the story of Tazithiel and Kal.  Their actions have some very fascinating implications for our Island World and I can’t wait to see what he does with the new revelation about the Rim-Wall Mountains.

If you haven’t read any of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, Dragon Thief is a great place to start.  It’s funny and touching, fast-paced yet with plenty of character development and there is some incredible world-building going on here.  And if you’re already a fan like I am, Dragon Thief is a great installment in the overall story of the Island World.  It builds on what we’ve seen and learned in previous books and introduces us to both an old friend and a whole new cast of characters to love.  You really can’t ask for more.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not available until Decmber 12, the release date.

**Not available.

Like all of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, you don’t really need to read this one in a particular order.  However, it does help if you read the books in order of publication because of certain minor spoilers that crop up.  Here’s my current recommended reading order:

  1. Aranya (Shapeshifter Dragons #1)
  2. The Pygmy Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragon Legends #1)
  3. Shadow Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragons #2)
  4. Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)
  5. Dragonlove (Dragonfriend #2)

Like I said, you don’t have to read all of these books before Dragon Thief but they will certainly give you a greater appreciation of all of the mythological references contained within the book.  For example, there are references to the Pygmy Dragon, Hualiama and Aranya.  They’re easy to figure out in the context of the book but again, you’ll have a greater appreciation of just how intertwined Secchia’s various series are and how rich the mythology he’s created is if you do.  With that said, if you’ve read the first two Shapeshifter Dragon books you may want to wait until the third is out because there are some minor spoilers in the references to Aranya throughout the book.  And of course the very existence of dragons is a bit of a spoiler considering how dire Aranya’s situation is at the end of Shadow Dragon.

Dragonlove by Marc Secchia

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

When a woman loves a Dragon, that love will change the world.

Six years have passed since Hualiama and Grandion defied the Island-World’s most sacred law. They burned the heavens together as Rider and Dragon. For his crime, Grandion the Tourmaline Dragon suffered exile and imprisonment. The Dragons forced Hualiama to forget her past.

Now, the suns must set upon the age of the Ancient Dragons. Amaryllion Fireborn, last of his kind, bequeaths Hualiama an astonishing legacy. She is the Dragonfriend. Raised by Dragons. Burned by Dragon fire. Oath-bound to a Dragon. Crossing the Island-World in search of her Dragonlove, she will forge an indelible mark upon history.

As war between Dragons and Humans engulfs the Islands, Hualiama must unravel the secrets of her tragic past in order to confront an evil that threatens the very existence of the Dragonkind. For love that is tested in the crucible of fate must burn, or die.

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

In the beginning of Dragonlove, Hualiama is definitely not herself.  Or, rather, she’s not the person she was six years ago when she and Grandion put down a coup on Fra’anior led by her own father, Ra’aba and the dragons.  Normally, this would not shock readers because this second book takes place a full six years after those events.  Of course people change!  But what’s missing is Hualiama’s pure love and determination when it comes to Grandion, the Dragon that she defied sacred law for.  At the end of Dragonfriend, Hualiama had her memories wiped by the powerful Amaryllion Fireborn in an attempt to make things easier for her by not letting her remember that she and Grandion were in love, not just friends.  But before his death here in Dragonlove, Amaryllion restores those memories and sets Hualiama on a quest that will irrevocably change the Island World.

As with before, Hualiama is an amazing character.  With her memories back her love for Grandion is just as strong as ever and she’s willing to not only defy sacred law but defy Dragons for it.  She goes to the ends of the Island World during an all-out Dragon war in order to find him, risking death at every turn.  At the same time, despite her love for Grandion, Hualiama most definitely has her doubts at times.  What if Grandion will never forgive her for abandoning him to the will of the Dragon Elders council, who set him an impossible quest that he would have to complete in order to restore his honour?  Can the Island World ever forgive Grandion and Hualiama for profaning the sacred laws by daring to become Dragon and Dragon Rider?  The answers aren’t straightforward and Hualiama goes through so much on her quest as she learns about her past and about Dragonkind in general.  She also learns that not only did Amaryllion give her his inner fire before he died, she carries a darker power within her from her erstwhile caretaker Ianthine.  I don’t want to give too much away, but Hualiama’s inner powers that she discovers along her journey are part of how she changes the Island World forever.  Particularly with the ruzal, the power that binds magic to words and allows practitioners of it to shape the very world that they live in.

The plot of Dragonlove was absolutely amazing.  Not only is it driven by memorable characters like Hualiama and Grandion, it has many, many twists and turns.  For example, the introduction of some new dragon subspecies, ones that are seemingly either extinct or hidden by Pip’s and Aranya’s times in the other series.  We also learn quite a bit about magic and human magic-users like Hualiama and others who harness the magic drifting all around the Island World.  And of course there’s a huge surprise at the end of the novel during the final battle that sets up the third and final book, Dragonsoul.  (Well, there’s actually more than one surprise at the end if I’m honest but one was more earth-shattering than the other.)  Even though Dragonlove is slightly over 500 pages, you’re also never bored because Marc Secchia keeps it fairly fast-paced throughout.  The beginning is a little slow as Hualiama re-learns about Grandion and sets off on her quest to find him, but things quickly get interesting when she finally finds him and discovers he’s not the same person (Dragon?) he was six years ago either.

One of the things I’ve liked about Marc Secchia’s books is that he always has a realistic view of war.  There are a lot of wars going on currently in Hualiama’s world between not only Dragonkind and humans but Dragonkind and itself.  He presents a picture of war that is of sheer brutality and strife.  Civilians are caught unwittingly in the crosshairs or, worse, are deliberately targeted by one or both sides as a way to gain an advantage over the other side.  What’s most realistic of all is that no one really comes out unscathed from these wars.  Without giving too much away, Grandion himself has physically changed in a very drastic way.  Hualiama has scars all over her body not only from when her own father tried to kill her but also the myriad burns and scrapes she acquired amongst Dragonkind.  Neither Dragon nor Rider escapes the psychological implications either.  And that brings me to the larger point I’m trying to make here: for all that this is fantasy, Marc Secchia has a dedication to truth.  He brings to life three dimensional characters with realistic motivations and places them in a world governed not only by magic, but by natural laws as well.  The technology present in all of his books is well thought out and there are even laws governing the use of magic that place restrictions on even the Dragons.  And best of all in my view, he’s practically invented Dragon anatomy as a hobby so he can bring these mythical creatures to life in a consistent and dare I say realistic way.

Basically, I absolutely adored Dragonlove and will eagerly await the third book in the trilogy, Dragonsoul.  This second book had everything I expected and more: memorable characters, a fast-paced plot, lots of twists and turns and world-building of the highest calibre.  You really can’t go wrong with the Dragonfriend Trilogy.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Discussion: Your Favourite Fantasy Creature

Most people enjoy a brand of fantasy, be it epic fantasy or urban fantasy or some variation of the two extremes, so to speak.  I personally enjoy pretty much all types of fantasy when it’s well-written and one of the things that makes it so is usually the fantasy creatures that inhabit the writer’s world.  What elevates some fantasy books from good to great is well thought out, unique fantasy creatures.  They don’t necessarily have to be completely unique, but I do like it when authors put a new spin on old tropes, particularly regarding vampires, werewolves and dragons.

Personally, my favourite fantasy creature is dragons.  I love dragons in fiction because there is really no canon dragon; each author most definitely has their own type.  Christopher Paolini in his Inheritance Cycle has dragons with riders that are just as intelligent, if not more than humans.  Marc Secchia has both dragons, dragon shapeshifters, Ancient Dragons and dragonets and his fantasy world is one of the best thought out of all the ones I’ve ever read.  Rachel Hartman’s math-loving, shape-shifting, highly analytical dragons are pretty cool as well.  Essentially, dragons are unique to the writer and that part of what makes me love them so much.

Now what I want to know is this: What is your favourite fantasy creature?  Why?

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Seraphina took the literary world by storm with 8 starred reviews and numerous “Best of” lists. At last, her eagerly awaited sequel has arrived—and with it comes an epic battle between humans and dragons.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

The first book in this duet, Seraphina, holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first ARCs I was ever approved for through NetGalley.  It felt like a big accomplishment and I felt even better about the whole thing when I absolutely fell in love with Rachel Hartman’s world and the story of Seraphina, a half-dragon stuck between two worlds.  To say that I was eagerly awaiting Shadow Scale would be an understatement but at the same time I did try to keep my expectations in check so I could give a decent review.

Sequels should improve upon the first book and in my mind, Rachel Hartman surpassed herself in world-building in her second book.  Not only do we get to see a little more of Goredd and its culture we get to see the rest of her world as Seraphina travels throughout it looking for her fellow half-dragons.  Hartman really does an amazing job of making each culture and country distinct, even down to its language.  She relies heavily on historical influences like ancient Greece and medieval France but it’s not so obvious that it seems like she’s beating you over the head with a stick about it.  No, she takes these influences and historical precedents and twists them to suit the world she has imagined.  It’s done beautifully and seamlessly and her writing style is so beautiful that you’ll feel these different cultures come alive.

As with her first book, Rachel Hartman’s writing style is beautiful.  Her descriptions whether long or short are poetic, with flowing language that doesn’t necessarily slow down the plot or the pacing in general.  Shadow Scale is not the fastest paced book in the world by any stretch of the imagination but it really is the writing that makes you keep reading in addition to the fact the characters are very three dimensional.  The writing is just fabulous and as I said in the last paragraph, it’s what really makes her world come alive.  She could have had the best world-building ever but without her pure writing talent Shadow Scale would have been an awfully boring book.

The characters themselves were also very satisfying in this final book.  Seraphina herself has grown so much and is finally starting to realize that no matter how much you may disagree with a person’s choices, it doesn’t give you the right to demand they change to fit your worldview.  As she begins her search for the other half-dragons she realizes that not all of them are saintly, as in the case of Jannoula and that not all of them even want to come with her and see other half-dragons.  Each half-dragon lives under their own particular set of circumstances and Seraphina quickly learns that no matter how hard she tries, she really can’t convince everyone.  And once she learns this, she becomes so much stronger even if she makes numerous mistakes along the way.  She grows so much throughout the novel that you can’t help but love her even more than you did in the first book.

Unfortunately, for all of my praise I came off of reading Shadow Scale with a real ‘meh’ feeling.  Why?  Unfortunately, it’s because of the ending.  It seemed very rushed and very forced on Rachel Hartman’s part even though she had hinted at certain plot twists before.  Really, it felt like she just didn’t spend the same amount of attention to detail on the ending as she did the rest of the book.  It felt sloppily put together, forced and inconsistent with the personalities and feelings of the characters.  One plot twist in particular in regards to Queen Glisselda felt super forced.  I can’t go into much detail because I don’t want to give away spoilers but I just felt like both Kiggs and Seraphina completely sold themselves out at the end despite fighting for honesty and transparency throughout the novel.

So in the end, despite the fact that this book was awesome for about 90% of the time, I do have to say I was a little disappointed with it.  If you loved the first book and read this one maybe you’ll feel differently but I can’t change my perception of the ending.  It was just too important to do in a seemingly half-hearted manner.

I give this book 3/5 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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Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans

Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Channeling the turbulent period of the Vietnam War and its ruthless pitting of ideologies, cultures, generations, and races against each other, military historian and acclaimed fantasy writer Chris Evans takes a daring new approach to the traditional world of sword and sorcery by thrusting it into a maelstrom of racial animus, drug use, rebellion, and a growing war that seems at once unwinnable and with no end in sight. In this thrilling epic, right and wrong, country and honor, freedom and sacrifice are all put to the ultimate test in the heart of a dark, bloody, otherworldly jungle.

In this strange, new world deep among the shadows under a triple-canopy jungle and plagued by dangers real and imagined, soldiers strive to fulfill a mission they don’t understand and are ill-equipped to carry out. And high above them, the heavy rush of wings slashing through the humid air herald a coming wave of death and destruction, and just possibly, salvation.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

As always, I’m going to be honest with you guys: I had a really, really hard time getting into this book.  I’m sure that some of you out there would have a similar problem because of all the new vocabulary, culture, characters, etc.  With that said, by about the second half of the novel I really began to appreciate Chris Evans’ writing.

His world-building is frankly amazing.  Not only has he created a somewhat unique fantasy world (something that I haven’t seen a lot of lately), he has populated it with very interesting creatures, different races and cultures.  My favourite part of the entire book was the dragons, or the ‘rags’ as their drivers call them.  They’re so unique and yet at the same time, it makes perfect sense for them to have done all of the things Chris Evans thinks of: they can overheat, there are many different species of dragons, young dragons are more ornery when they’re first being ridden and they have their favourite roosting spots.  My favourite seen was when one of the characters rides on a rag for the first time and they have to make a quick landing to cut it open because its core was overheating (because of old age).  It was hilarious to read about his reactions to what was his first day in the Lux.

Really, you can’t fault anything with Chris Evans’ world-building the same way you can’t fault his characterization.  He has such a diverse cast of characters that are so well fleshed-out that you can’t help but feel for all of them.  In particular I liked Vorly because he was a rag driver, but Jawn, Wraith and Listowick were also right up there.  Everyone in his book has their different reasons for fighting in the war: glory, honour, nowhere else to go, a chance at a better life, etc.  It’s very realistic and I love the depictions of the soldiers who have been in the Lux for a long time compared to the new recruits, particularly the heavily devout ones.  It certainly makes for inter-character tension and plenty of conflict.

My only real problem with the book was the pacing.  It took me a little over half the novel to really get into it because even though I recognize this is epic fantasy, the plot crawled along at a snail’s pace.  Yes, it helps to go slow to get your reader oriented, but that came later in the book so Chris Evans really could have sped up the beginning a little to hook readers better.  It’s not a long book, only 496 pages, but in the beginning it did feel like an eternity.  Once you get past the beginning, however, things get pretty crazy as the forces of the Kingdom and the slyts get ready to face off in a battle that has not been seen in the thus far guerrilla-style war.  So yes, there is some sag in the middle and the beginning but the rest of the book is very, very fast-paced.

In the end, I’m very glad that I didn’t give up on Of Bone and Thunder as I was very tempted to in the beginning.  Chris Evans is an excellent writer despite the shaky beginning and I’m definitely adding his Iron Elves trilogy to my ever-expanding to read pile.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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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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