This is an old school sprawling epic fantasy with dragon slayers and by the end, really neat magic. It takes quite a bit for me to become interested in dragons and dragon slayers, I’ve seen it so many times that I can become easily bored if it doesn’t give me something new. I really liked this one 😀
The story follows a handful of characters, but arguably there are two main characters, Bershad and Ashlyn. They were once betrothed, but after Bershad’s fall from grace and subsequent exile from the kingdom, they became estranged and thought they’d never see each other again… only to cross paths again when her father, the King, seeks vengeance on another realm.
Bershad has been marked as a dragon slayer. He has blue tattoos on his face which make it an inescapable marker that he’s an exile and not to be treated with any kind of respect or honor. Dragon killing is a punishment, you’re not supposed to be an honored hero, you’re essentially being sent to your death. Most dragon slayers die on their first attempt, a few of them manage to kill a few before dying themselves… Bershad has killed over 60 of them and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. This pissed the king off, he’s the one who exiled him. So, he’s come up with a new impossible task — kill another emperor, and have the exile and punishment lifted.
The other emperor is in one of the most impenetrable countries in the world, there’s a customs process that almost no one gets through, and no one has ever managed to get into the palace as a spy or otherwise. The other land worships “clocks” — they are essentially a steampunk realm and I was so excited when we finally got to see what it looked like.
So, Bershad doesn’t have much of a choice, this is his one chance to redeem himself and stop living this life of an exile. He’s not even allowed to sleep ina regular bed, no one is allowed to help him in any way or face retribution themselves, it’s a miserable existance. But, he does hate this king, he was betrayed by him and wants nothing more than to just kill him and be done with everything. But, the princess comes to him with her own set of reasons why he should go to this realm and kill their emperor.
They are going to kill all of the dragons. They are planning a mass extinction event to get rid of what they consider pests. Not to mention that dragon fat lasts longer than any other oil and has magical properties, so he would end up with the worlds last supply of a valuable commodity on top of ridding his realm of a pest.
But there are serious ecological impacts made when you take a species as integral as dragons out of the equation. The dragons are being culled in mass quantaties and it’s starting to have a domino affect up and down the food chain. Ashlyn is one of my favorite characters I’ve read ina long time.
I have a big interest in biology, ethology, ecology and all things nature related. When a character shares that interest and then applies it to their world, I am so down for that kind of world building. Tell me all about how this planet lives and breathes and how it all interconnects. Give me ALL of that. Not to mention Ashlyn is a good leader, she thinks ahead, respects her friends as well as her enemies, she tries not to underestimate her problems or her advantages and uses them all strategically. I really loved her character, she has to put up with so much shit and just keeps pushing until she gets it done.
Garrett is a mostly mysterious character and you don’t learn his true motives or reasonings until the end. I didn’t like him from the start, and I don’t think you’re supposed to. He’s a ruthless assassin who kills anyone he’s paid to, and any person he considers to be a witness. He seemingly has no conscience and not much depth goes into his character… I don’t know where he’s from, what family he may have, what religion he may or may not have, I don’t know anything about him outside of his mission, how he kills people,. and that he’s a right prick. By the end when I did find out more about him, I hated him even more. Blech. This guy.
Then there’s Jolan, a young apothecary’s apprentice who just keeps getting the shitty hand in life. His master dies leaving him penniless and homeless since the lord of he city he was working for decided he didn’t need his services after his master’s death. He’s a neat kid, he’s smart, he’s good hearted, he’s ethical and has principals. He’s easy to like. That’s why I was so heart broken this kid ended up entangled with that Garrett fuckass, Garrett keeps thinking about killing Jolan and I kept screaming DONT YOU DARE.
It’s not entirely clear how all those POVs were going to interconnect and fit into the bigger story, and it didn’t really come together until the very end. This is just the beginning of a huge story, so it wasn’t all that surprising it took a while to build up and get going.
Holy mother of god is this a brutal and bloody book. Spears in faces, guts coming out, people broken and sliced to pieces, heads being taken off, dragons eating people and each other — there was just a buttload of violence and gore without it feeling like forced or ham-fisted for shock value. That’s a delicate line to balance on and I think this one did it well.
The world building was just so fantastic and just my kind of thing. There was a lot of time spent on different species of dragons and their behavior, migration patterns, anatomy, etc. I just… yes please. Give me more fantasy like this. Bio-fantasy? Is this a thing? I loved that this appeared to be low magic fantasy at first, more focused on sword play and dragons/beasts than human wielding magic and whatnot — but by the end this started to come into play and made everything so much better.
The pacing was pretty slow for the first third of the book, then as I started to see the big picture things started to speed up… that ending though, holy fuck. Take all of my yes. There was also a twist that I sort of saw coming, but I did not guess the depth of fuckery… so I enjoyed being surprised, but was also enraged by said surprise.
I feel like I’ve rambled for a while — I’ve picked up book two because I need to know where this thing with Ashlyn is going and I want more science bio fantasy in my life.
- Plot: 12.5/15
- Characters: 12.5/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 8.5/10
Final Score: 80.5/100