The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing Info: May 2018 by Gollancz (first published 2017)
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Back Cover Summary:
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.
Dragons are what attracted me to this book. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. The concept of dragons being attracted to stories is an interesting one, and I liked that this provided a different angle to the well-trodden road of dragon rider novels. Riding dragons wasn’t the focus of the book for the majority, as dragons have in fact been hunted for some time.
Kristen Ciccarelli doesn’t use much description in her prose, yet I was still able to visualise every scene. This also meant it wasn’t bogged down in in-depth description like many fantasy books get lost in, and it kept the book fairly fast paced. I would have perhaps liked a bit more sensory description, to make the settings come alive more and create more atmosphere in some of the tense scenes.
Asha’s perceptions of her world, her family and herself are gradually changed over the course of the book, and the author did a great job of showing this development. The focus was on her inner conflict and development which was good to see, as so many fantasy books prioritise plot over characters. The supporting cast were good, but didn’t stand out. I didn’t feel as invested in them as the central characters Asha and Torwin. Although the dragons were depicted well and felt like real characters. The next book in the series appears to be about two of the characters from this book, rather than directly following on with Asha’s story, so maybe then we will get some more insight into the other characters.
The book went in a different direction to what you might expect at the beginning, and there were some revelations that, although not entirely unpredictable, were satisfying twists because they truly came as a surprise to the main character. The pacing did suffer a little bit at one point, where Asha seemed to go back and forth between the city and the Rift several times, which got a bit repetitive. Looking back though, I don’t think it could have been written differently, so I was able to overlook the slight repetitiveness.
The king’s motivations for his actions weren’t explained or explored much, and neither were Jarek’s, which seemed like a missed opportunity. They could have been more fleshed out antagonists. The princess trying to get out of an arranged marriage is an overdone trope, and the author could have found an alternative way to create conflict between the characters. Although there were other complications to this relationship that made it more intriguing than other arranged marriage subplots I have read.
I think it is a shame this book hasn’t been hyped as much as others, as it is unique with a compelling concept and central character. This was the author’s debut, and I can definitely see room for improvement, but I can also see she has a gift with storytelling, so I will look forward to reading more of her work.