I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Return of the Darkening #1
Published by indie author on November 7, 2015
Genres: High Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult
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High-born Agathea Flamma intends to bring honor to her family by following in her brothers’ footsteps and taking her rightful place as a Dragon Rider. With her only other option being marriage, Thea will not accept failure. She’s not thrilled at her awkward, scruffy partner, Seb, but their dragon has chosen, and now the unlikely duo must learn to work as a team.
Seventeen-year-old Sebastian has long been ashamed of his drunken father and poor upbringing, but then he’s chosen to train as a Dragon Rider at the prestigious academy. Thrust into a world where he doesn’t fit in, Seb finds a connection with his dragon that is even more powerful than he imagined. Soon, he’s doing all he can to succeed and not embarrass his new partner, Thea.
When Seb hears rumors that an old danger is reemerging, he and Thea begin to investigate. Armed only with their determination and the dragon they both ride, Thea and Seb may be the only defense against the Darkening that threatens to sweep the land. Together, they will have to learn to work together to save their kingdom…or die trying.
I’m a fan of the whole partnership-with-a-magical-creature type of fictional friendship, as evidenced by my having read just about all of Mercedes Lackey‘s novels of Valdemar. So Ava Richardson’s book, Dragon Trials, first novel in the Return of the Darkening series, was something I couldn’t not pick up after I’d read the description.
While things immediately started happening as far as this story goes, I had a bit of disorientation when I first started reading, mostly because of the head hopping between the two main characters. However, since the author stuck to only one point of view per chapter, I soon caught the rhythm of her writing and, after the first few chapters, I didn’t have to think about it anymore. Which was a good thing, as there was a lot to think about it once Richardson started taking us through the ins and outs of the world she’d built, which was wonderfully layered—there’s a secret subculture among the dragon riders, not to mention cliques formed by the riders with different roles, a hierarchy to dragon colors, tragedy when the triad of dragon-navigator-protector is splintered, and so on.
Right at the heart of this world is the dragon rider academy. The two main characters enter into it by virtue of having been chosen as riders by the same dragon, but they are immediately thrust into opposite ends of the social spectrum. Thea is from a noble family that has been churning out of dragon riders for generations. She has two rider brothers, one of whom is even partnered with the crown prince. She is very conscious of her place in the world, but to balance this out, she is also under enormous pressure to succeed. This makes her uppity, at least to others’ perceptions, because she doesn’t enjoy the success she thinks she should, no matter how hard she works.
On the other hand, Seb was born poor and has spent most of his childhood covering for his alcoholic father. Still, he at least has a rudimentary education, and he is kind to others, even when he can scarcely afford to be. As a character, I think he could have done with a few more flaws, but it is nevertheless very easy to sympathize with him, especially when he immediately becomes the prime target for the noble bullies who think they are better than him when it is proved time and again this is not the case.
Readers may see shades of Harry Potter and Hogwarts in this book, notably in poor, just-happy-to-be-here Seb and the rare and special affinity he has with dragons, the know-it-all Thea whose vast amounts of in-theory-knowledge doesn’t always stand up in practice, and the awkward and nerdy Merik, whose circumstances have left him something of an object of mixed pity and ridicule.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, though I would have preferred a bit more editing and a bit more clarity as far as the POVs are involved.
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