Dragon numbers had been dwindling for years and it was getting harder to bring their heads back to her father. It was why she’d turned to telling the old stories in secret. The old stories drew dragons the way jewels drew men. No dragon could resist one told aloud.
But stories didn’t just lure dragons. They made them stronger.
Hence, the fire.
It went like this: where the old stories were spoken aloud, there were dragons; and where there were dragons, there was destruction and betrayal and burning. Especially burning. Asha knew this better than anyone. The proof was right there on her face.
(The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli. P6.) Synopsis:
Asha is a dragon slayer. She is also drawn to forbidden things, like the old stories told by her mother. The stories which lure dragons. As a child, Asha was blamed for an attack on the village by the dragon Kozu, an attack which killed many people. Her father protected her from the people’s hate by naming her the Iskari, the deadly one, after the old God.
Asha’s marriage to Jarek draws closer. Jarek, who sees his slaves as property. Jarek, who designs his future wife’s wedding dress so she cannot take it off herself. The King gives Asha an ultimatum. Kill Kozu, and the old ways will die. Kill Kozu, and the people will see it as an act of atonement. The marriage with Jarek will no longer be necessary.
With days until her marriage, Asha sets off on a mission to kill Kozu and end the old ways. The Old One has other plans for Asha.
A story of self-belief and manipulation. I love the Last Namsara. The relationship between dragons and storytelling is a fantastic metaphor for the power we gain from listening to stories – how recognising our own truths in a story gives us power to speak up, and act against tyrants. Aside from that, the dragons are described so vividly, I can smell the smoke.
If you enjoyed The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, or Ink by Alice Broadway, you will love this. Alongside Asha’s story, we hear the old stories she whispers to the dragons. Stories which have been passed down the generations. These are not only great stories, they make the reader think about why stories are told in the first place.
I love the presence of dragons in the world, and their relationship with The Old One, the God-like figure who acts through his heroes, the Namsaras. Asha believes that, as the Iskari, she is the opposite of these Namsaras. Her contact with them – with the old world, and the old stories, makes her question what she knows about herself. I loved this concept. It was like Asha took herself inside a story, and came out a different person, which is the effect reading can have on a person.
My favourite relationship was between Asha and Jarek’s Slave. I will not tell you his name – he isn’t named until part way through the book, and this is part of the story. As the story progresses, Asha questions what she has always been taught about slaves being property, about the things slaves should and shouldn’t do. I love how this relationship changes Asha as a person, and gives her a wider perspective on the world.
The politics of the world changes with the course of the story. I hope there is a sequel, or more from this world. I would love to hear from these characters again, and to know where they go beyond the bounds of this story. I will certainly read more from Ciccarelli – this is a new favourite.
With thanks to Stevie Finegan and Gollancz for sending an advance copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.