If you’d like to read my spoiler review section, keep reading through to the section titled “Into the Fire.”
So many YA books start before the revolution, but this one takes place several years into a new dictatorship/oligarchy that replaces the monarchy. It’s a concept that has been seen so many times throughout history, and I think it’s great to show the consequences of a rebellion in a fantasy setting. I’ll tell you this, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine when the original government gets overthrown — even if they were tyrannical.
The story follows the split-perspective of Annie and Lee, both orphaned from the revolution but in very different ways. They have grown up, dealing with the harsh realities of their new world. Now they’re part of the elite guard of dragon riders. But as the revolution becomes more complicated and other conflicts arise, the two must decide if they will continue to fight for this new government or lose themselves in the similarities between both regimes.
In order for me to give a book five stars, it has to be a fantastic story, but it also has to contain something that transcends the pages. This book did a great job of making a fantasy world still comparable to our society. There were just too many little story things that took it down a star for me. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy and reading about class struggle or the consequences of revolutions. Also, can I just say how refreshing it is to read a YA book with a decent Lexicon?
There were so many things I liked about this book: a realistic descent into chaos after a revolution, vulnerable male characters, people talking through their psychological trauma, and so much more. But there was also a handful of details that I didn’t think worked well. Let’s talk about those first.
Although I loved the split perspective of Annie and Lee at times, there are some points where this structure worked as a plot crutch. Usually, this would happen when Lee or Annie encounters huge emotional events like when Annie and Rock “have to” burn a villager. We’re in Lee’s perspective when she first tells him what happens, and then we get to see a scene from her perspective. But this whip-lash of going forward and backward in time (while still being in present tense) was a little jarring at times. Not a huge deal. Just bein’ a picky reader.
Speaking of burning that villager though, this seemed so out of character for Annie that I was immediately thrown out of my reading immersion. Are you telling me that just because the villagers aren’t giving them enough of their food supply, that in an instant without any other warnings, Annie just decides that they should burn people? After everything that she’s gone through with people getting burned to death? I know this moment was supposed to make them question whether or not they were just as bad as the monarchy, but at the same time, it was unbelievable for Annie to do this. It would have been entirely different if she had witnessed Rock’s dragon burn someone and then voiced her anger at him.
Rock’s eyes meet mine in a silent question. I nod once to show I’ll do it. Though, I suppose, I have to. Rock’s dragon hasn’t sparked yet. He could cause injuries, but for the full effect of this demonstration, we require flames.Pg. 328
A similar but more effective time the gang questions whether or not they’re just as bad as the previous rulers is when they’re making plans for the food distribution. Here they discuss the iron working class getting less food than the elite gold class. Lee and Annie have a reasonable and diffcult discussion about why this has to be this way, but that still doesn’t change the fact that their pal Cor will have to give his sister scraps. It was emotional. It was realistic. And it wasn’t preachy. It’s a real problem people in history have had to navigate before.
Scenes went really fast in this book, often jumping over travel time within single sentences. I got used to this flow, but it made fight scenes go super fast. Even the last major dragon battle between Lee and his cousin Julia was so quick and inconsequential that it ended up feeling pretty rushed. But Lee got a great speech out of it afterward so…
Let the blood on my hands be my offering; let the spoils of my battle stand as proof of my loyalty.Pg. 422
One last major critique I have about the book is the dragons. The writing style was very non-descriptive, which I can deal with. You only get physical descriptions every now and then, and they come across very naturally. But if someone asked me what the dragons were like: how big, what color, what details do they have — I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Which is kind of disappointing? I love dragons. And the connection that the riders had with the dragons, which I would describe as similar to how Eragon sees through Saphira’s eyes, was very emotional and intense. But the dragons don’t have a voice in the rider’s minds, and they seem very robotic. More dragons in book two, please.
I think my favorite aspect of the book was how well the consequences of the revolution were explored. People are uneasy and unsure about their new leaders and guards. When the gang has to take food from people or give speeches, the villagers would often would hate them for being so similar to the monarchy. And it would really pay an emotional toll on the main characters in different ways. For example, Annie, who had grown up in these villages and feared dragon fire, was now spit on and cursed by the people. It was just an incredibly powerful image. There’s a lot to digest with these parts of the book, which makes me excited for future books in the series.
The characters are also pretty well fleshed out. And I could tell they were fleshed out because I actually cared about most of them. Pitting Annie and Lee against each other even though they were best friends, and being able to see the story from each of their unique perspectives, was a super unique reading experience.
My only note in the character category is that it often felt like Annie had more depth than Lee. I think part of this issue was the result of him keeping his princely secret from everyone. But even when we were in his head, he was often pretty bland. Annie had to overcome not only the stigma of her birthplace but also her place as a female dragon rider. Meanwhile, Lee had to overcome…? It was an interesting dynamic that he had to face and report to the man who had killed his entire family. Even more interesting that he eventually agreed that the new ruler was right. But it was only because of the way Annie would describe Lee that I really ended up enjoying his character. I also think Lee reminded me of Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender, so it was pretty easy to like him when I realized they were so similar.
I was especially impressed by Power, a major antagonist, who breaks several stereotypes when he helps out Annie with her training. He was still a crummy person, but he was realistic because he chose Annie over his hatred of Lee.
I know some people were pissed at Lee for acting like he owns Annie when they were children, but I could write it off as post-traumatic stress from everything he had gone through as a kid. People were waiting on him hand and foot, and suddenly he has the blood of everyone on his body? Yeah, that’s gonna mess a kid up.
Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. It was a dense and impressive read. I’m looking forward to book two!
Check out my review on Wilder Girls, Beautiful Creatures, or The Sun Is Also a Star if you liked this review. And let me know if you’ve read this book and what your thoughts were — especially if they were different.