A girl seeks the help of a dragon to save her heartmate.
Bisexual Maren lives in Ilvera, a mountaintop village ruled by the tyrannous emperor of Zefed. His influence includes control of the Aurati seers, women who visit to share prophecies and take new initiates. When the Aurati abscond with Maren’s heartmate, Kaia, Maren gathers her courage and travels to the fortress where dragons are trained for the emperor. Maren hopes her heritage—Verrans have a special connection with dragons—will enable her to steal a dragon and use it to free Kaia. Hiding her origins and intentions, Maren becomes an apprentice to the Aromatory, who uses scented oils to control dragons, and befriends Sev, a fortress guard hiding secrets of his own. Maren’s world is at once familiar and inventive; politics and dragon lore are deeply rooted and heavily inform the narrative. The pacing is methodical and perhaps too linear—much of the time, Maren announces her intentions and then executes them, mostly to plan. One of the few plot twists is telegraphed from miles off. Still, Maren’s wins are satisfying and the rip-roaring conclusion, empowering; her journey from viewing herself as second-best to someone with power and worth is particularly gratifying. Maren’s mixed heritage gives her light-brown skin like most Zefedi, while Kaia has the darker skin of Verrans.
Debut author Wells’ beautiful prose and compelling protagonist will leave readers eager for the sequel. (Fantasy. 13-18)