(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.