Author: Laura Rueckert
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.
A Dragonbird in the Fern was a fantastic debut novel that was impossible to put down. As a standalone fantasy novel, I was nervous that there would be not enough world-building or character development; however, this novel did a fantastic job and I cannot wait to read more from this author. First off, I love that there is a map at the beginning of the story as it was easy to picture each nation in relation to the next and give a visual representation of the vast distance that is covered in this story. The story begins in the kingdom of Azzaria that is at the southern tip near the ocean with its capital city of Glizerra. They have a lot of tension with Loftaria, which is their neighbor to the North. On the other side of Loftaria lies Farnskag with its capital city of Baaldarstad. To the east of these nations lie Svertya and to the west is Stӓrkland. Although the story mainly takes place in Azzaria and Farnskag, all the nations are included in some way throughout the pages.
Princess Jiara Ginevoradaag of Azzaria is seventeen and five months shy of eighteen. She is an extremely bright and clever character, but she has doubts in herself when it comes to reading and writing. As she is dyslexic without being aware that she is, she believes that she is not good enough and not as smart as those around her are by comparison. She thought her life was planned out for her as her three-year-older sister, Scilla, was betrothed to King Raffar Perssuun Daggsuun of Farnskag while Jiara, on her 18th birthday, would become engaged to Duke Marro Berdonando Riccardi from Flissina (a northern territory in Azzaria near Loftaria). When Scilla is murdered, Jiara’s life is turned upside down. Scilla becomes an earthwalker, which are murder victims consumed by wrath to find their killers and can cause harm to the living.
During the Time of Tears, the three-month period of mourning, the Farnskagers, who had a planned meeting to pay their respects for Scilla, end up arriving early. Raffar, who became the ruling monarch after losing his parents three years ago when he was sixteen, leads the party along with his translator, Aldar Anzgarsuun. To preserve the alliance between their nations, as Farnskag needs Azzaria’s ports and Azzaria needs them should Loftaria attack, Queen Ginevora of Azzaria, Jira’s mother, creates a new plan to betroth Raffar and Jira. Once the two of them are married, Jira moves to Farnskag where the main part of the story begins. Not only is there a lot of political intrigue taking place, Jira has to now live in a place with her new husband in a new place where she does not speak the language or fully understand the culture. On top of everything, she is determined to continue the search for Scilla’s murderer.
Jira’s character was amazing. She was very open to learning about everything around her and understood that she would have to work at it. She knew mistakes would be made along the way and was not afraid to try. I love all of the connections that she made in the story, both previously established and ones that were developed over time. Even though she was the queen of an unfamiliar nation, she continued to think about the needs of her homeland. Jira was a very likeable character and, although I loved her relationships with many of the characters, her romance with Raffar stood out. They were incredibly patient with each other due to both the circumstances of their marriage and language barriers. I loved how Raffar treated her and how he was secure enough to not force Jira to change just to suite his needs.
Overall, this was a very well written story that was very thought out. There is a lot of mystery at the beginning, especially about the murder. As it becomes a little more foreseeable about how the novel will conclude, the author did an excellent job at keeping it interesting. Since the story follows Jira, there were times that I missed getting a more in-depth look at other characters, such as Raffar. Everything in the story centered on Jira’s experience, thoughts, and feelings. In many circumstances this would bother me as a reader, but the author did it in a very well-done and purposeful way that I loved the way it was written. Even though this novel is a standalone, I would love more stories set in this world as it was very well described and captivating. Easily, I would pick up any and all novels written by this author!
**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, North Star Editions, for the opportunity to read this fantastic novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**