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.
Ass-kicking, dragon-hunting protagonist? Say no more, I’m there! That’s pretty much all I knew about this book going into it after receiving a copy in a subscription box, but it was all I needed to know. I was anticipating action and adventure, fierce females and far-away fantasy. And this book delivered it all, and then some!
Protagonist Asha is a dragon-hunter. She hunts and slays dragons to atone for inadvertently summoning a dragon that destroyed her city when she was a girl. Her people fear her. Her father, the king, names her Iskari after a vengeful goddess and uses her drive the last of “the Old Ways” from his kingdom. She’s betrothed to a glory-hunting jackass and only ‘one last (dragon-hunting) job’ can save her from his clutches. That’s probably as much detail as I can go into without starting to run off a synopsis of the book, but suffice to say, she’s badass.
It was up to the supporting characters to draw the real Asha out though, and they were a great cast! Asha’s slave-blooded cousin, Safire, was my personal favourite. Her brother Dax seemed like to much of an idiot through most of the story for me to believe as the heir to the dragon king’s throne, until revelation later in the story revealed that to not be the case. Of course, no such book would be complete without a love interest, which is where things started to unravel a bit for me. Torwin was…fine. Just…fine. He’s a slave to Asha’s royalty, so they had the whole Romeo and Juliet thing going on, but it felt a bit too by-the-numbers to be organic. I think I’d have preferred to read them as friends rather than would-be lovers. Asha’s relationship with her pet dragon Shadow – and later, *named redacted because spoilers* – was more believable. Torwin was a great character and played out the other side of Asha’s world perfectly, but their burgeoning romance felt forced. I wasn’t a huge fan of the way Asha turned to mush around Torwin. I get their slow burn romance and the author was showing the real Asha starting to emerge from the hardened shell she’s built around herself, but I just have a dislike of female protagonists going gooey ever time they’re in close physical proximity to the designated love interest. A love interest that, of course, smells great no matter what’s just happened to him. Seriously, is it too much to ask that a character acknowledges that their partner smells like they really need a wash?
The world-building in this book is absolutely fantasy perfection; enough to create a rich, vibrant world without bogging itself down in irrelevant details. Asha’s refined kingdom of Firgaard and the wild, free scrublands are pretty much the only places we hear about, but their history and cultures shine through, woven through the story seemingly effortlessly. The ancient stories that peppered the book itself were a lovely touch. As well as letting the reader see the tales which inspired such awe and fear, they were a clever way of sneakily feeding the reader the history of the world without glaringly obvious infodumps.
The book is action-packed from start to finish and it ends pretty much perfectly. There’s plenty of scope for a sequel, but it also reads stand alone without dangling plot threads or unanswered questions that serve to annoy more than they entice. My kind of ending!