Ciccarelli’s debut checks all the boxes for teen high fantasy.
Asha, the Iskari (a ceremonial warrior named for “a deadly” god) and a princess, believes in the new order of her homeland: dragons should be killed, not worshipped; skrals deserve their enslavement—collared, penned, not allowed to look at draksors, members of the ruling caste. As a child, Asha rebelled and told stories to dragons until the First Dragon, Kozu, burned her and half the city. Now she mostly toes the line. But a rule-breaking (and attractive) slave, the return of Kozu, an allegiance with the scrublanders, and Asha’s impending wedding to the sadistic commandant lead Asha to rebellion. Ciccarelli has clearly poured care into both the creation of her world, which rests on a religious foundation without a real-world analogue, and her complex but well-managed plotting. The limited characterization and curious lack of physical descriptors (the enslaved skral seem to be fair-skinned) detract a bit from the worldbuilding, and readers may find the princess-slave love story inherently problematic. Even if destined by the Old One and although slavery is clearly positioned as not OK, this is an inherently unbalanced relationship, something the text acknowledges but resolves largely through a fairly literal deus ex machina. However, the underlying theme of strong females making change and the interesting setting will carry the day for many.
Likely to be popular despite the pressing flaws, and—pleasantly surprising for a duology opener—a satisfying tale on its own. (Fantasy. 13-adult)