Hi everyone! Today is yet another ARC review! I’ve really been on a roll lately with getting my ARCs read and reviewed, which I’m really happy about. At least I’m being consistent with something, since it sure isn’t my blog! Make sure you check out A Dragonbird in the Fern, it came out yesterday!
A Dragonbird in the Fern
by Laura Rueckert
Release date: August 3rd 2021
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the murderer is brought to justice. While the entire kingdom mourns, Scilla’s betrothed arrives and requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride to confirm the alliance between their countries.Marrying the young king intended for her sister and traveling to his distant home is distressing enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara abandoned any hope of learning other languages long ago. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land where she’ll be unable to communicate. Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin comes from the king’s own country. If she marries the king, Jiara can hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s ghost, whose thirst for blood mounts every day. To save her family, Jiara must find her sister’s killer . . . before he murders her too.
Thanks so much to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy to review!
I really struggled with writing this review, because there were so many things that could’ve worked so well but just fell short. This book had such an interesting premise, but it fell short a little bit of my expectations. This is by no means a bad book, with this looking like a debut novel I think it shows a lot of promise for this author’s future works!
The entire reason for Jiara going to a foreign country to marry their king is to find her sister’s killer, but that plotline kept kind of getting lost and after the beginning felt like it fell to the wayside until the end. In fact, all the plotlines kind of felt like they were unfinished, and it was a bit choppy and felt like it focused on one thing then jumped to something else, then jumped back.
A lot of things seemed to be a little too convenient and predictable, for example in moments where the main character is content suddenly the ghost of her sister will lash out and attack her, making the main character worry about finding her sister’s killer. The inclusion of the Watchers – sort of like gods in the foreign country – felt a little bit like a cop-out because these Watchers keep people from dying if they approve of them which definitely lowers the stakes a lot and didn’t make me feel like any of the characters were actually in any danger.
The other downside to this is that things didn’t feel fleshed out enough and given enough attention. There was just enough to make me interested, but not enough for me to truly understand the characters or the world. This happened not only with the romance, but all the other relationships between not only the characters, but the different countries as well.
I also didn’t really feel connected to any of the characters, and I had an especially hard time when it came to Raffar who we were told was this great guy who wanted to make some advances in his country, but really all we got was he’s really good looking with tattoos and that really felt like the entirety of his personality. Jiara also was lacking in personality. It felt like everything that she was revolved around the fact that she’s dyslexic, because that’s really the only thing we were given about her other than her love for her family. I also kind of don’t understand the inclusion of her friend Pia since she only showed up for a handful of scenes and then was pretty much never mentioned again.
Right now I know it’s sounding like I didn’t like this book, but there were some aspects that I did really like! I loved the inclusion of dyslexia and the struggles that the main character faced, especially since that’s not something that you see often in fantasy novels. I also really loved the inclusion of a language barrier between the two love interests seeing as they’re from different countries. Often fantasy books take place across multiple kingdoms and it always seems like everyone speaks the same language, so it was nice for this to finally come up in a book!
It’s definitely a quick read and was fun, but didn’t wow me. I think this could be a nice book for an introduction to fantasy for someone new to the YA fantasy genre, but if you’re an avid fantasy reader you may find some things missing with this one.
EDIT: I was scrolling through other reviews after finishing mine, and I came across another review from Maddie on Goodreads who had a paragraph that summed up a lot of my feelings on the book and it’s pacing: “Nothing really happened up until 75-80% of the way through. And when things were finally allowed to happen, they were so predictable and rushed that it too almost felt like an afterthought. The pacing went from, “learning the customs, gawking over Raffar, learning the language, feeling like a failure, wanting to have sex with Raffar, learning the language some more, OH RIGHT I FORGOT I HAVE A GHOST SISTER, dang Raffar’s looking pretty damn fine today👀, did you say we have a prisoner here that could be useful, that elephant bird has it out for me I just know it, time to learn some more about the culture” to “DECEIT AND BETRAYAL AND GUESS WHAT THIS PERSON’S LIFE IS IN DANGER AND also you still kinda have to learn our language? sorry?” and it was just so hard to connect with the story.”
Have you read A Dragonbird in the Fern? I’d love to chat!