Tagged: island world

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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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.

Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia

Dragonfriend(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.

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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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