In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.
These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.
Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. It’s spoiler-free!!
This book has some pretty glowing reviews on Goodreads, but I really struggle to understand what a lot of people saw in it. I saw words of praise for the “complex heroine” and “riveting story”, but I truly didn’t find any of that in this book, which is a shame.
I think where this book falls short is in the execution. I admit that the world was interesting–it was somewhat unique in comparison to most YA fantasy, so I definitely saw the appeal there. Ciccarelli had some success when it came to creating unique lore and an immersive environment. There was an element of storytelling that I really enjoyed, though it was never explained how exactly it fit into the world. Actually, a good portion of the book was incredibly confusing; Ciccarelli paced the world-building a bit too slowly for me to understand what was going on. There was lots of “term-dropping” (Iskari, Namsara, Old One, skral, draksor, etc.) without much explanation. As a whole, Firgaard was admirably conceived but poorly created.
While the world-building was acceptably mediocre, the characters were what really brought down the rating for me. Asha, our main heroine, is made out to be a badass, stone-cold girl who doesn’t need anyone to fight for her. Unfortunately, these characteristics came across as bitchy, whiny, and weak. No fight scene showed any sense of skill or toughness on her part. What’s worse is that she has no personality outside of this. She called her love interest “slave” for a majority of the book and was just generally unlikable. She underwent minor character development throughout the story, but it did little to bring her to life. The rest of the characters were equally as flat and static, just names on a paper.
Lastly, I found the writing to be horrifically cliche. The prose itself did not flow (although, I just finished a Holly Black book which may have raised my standards a bit high), and there were dull lines that could have belonged in any conversation in any fantasy book. Punchy one-liners littered the pages, quickly losing all effectiveness. There were attempts at slang (ex. scarf -> skarf; soldier -> soldat), but I just found these to be annoying to read. Ultimately, it read as though Ciccarelli was trying to emulate other fantasy authors, and her lack of originality showed through.
This book didn’t make me feel anything. I didn’t care about the characters or the plot. Pick up An Ember in the Ashes for a fantasy with the same vibe but a much more successful story.