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.
Thank you to Flux Books for the review copy. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I’ve had A Dragonbird in the Fern on my radar since last year, so was incredibly excited when I was approved for it on Netgalley. It’s such a brilliant coming of age story with a fantastic heroine and a sweet romance arc, shocker, I loved it. Princess Jiara is still getting over the death of her older sister Scilla when her betrothed arrives and asks for Jiara’s hand in marriage instead. Jiara is wary, not only because this was the man promised to her sister, but marrying him means moving to another country, one where she doesn’t speak the language, and her dyslexia causes her to fear she will never be able to communicate with her husband to be. But that’s not all Jiara should be worried about, rumours are the person who killed her sister is from the King’s own country, and Jiara could be next on their list.
Jiara was such a fantastic character, she was strong willed and determined to find out what happened to her sister so that her spirit could finally rest in peace. Living with dyslexia has meant she has always struggled with the written language and she fears moving to Farnskager and having to learn a completely new and foreign language, but she will do it, to protect her kingdom and to help her sister. She constantly fights an internal battle between denying her growing feelings for her new husband, wanting to help him and her new kingdom, and wanting to find out who exactly killed her sister. Seeing her overcome her fears, learn the language and blossom into a just and fair ruler was such a great journey, and I just loved seeing her character grow throughout the story.
I loved the world building in this book! Jiara and the people of Azzaria believe that when a person is violently killed their spirit lingers, wanting justice for their death, and if justice doesn’t come they can act out causing harm and sometimes death to those they loved in life. This was such a unique idea and I loved how the author wrote it into the story, seeing Jiara not only having to deal with moving to a new country with a completely different culture, but also having to deal with the spirit of her dead sister who desperately wants justice for her death. There were some violent scenes, but also some soft and sweet ones where you could tell Scilla knew she loved Jiara, and was sorry for the pain she was causing. In Farnskager they have a completely different belief system, they pray to the watchers, beings who bestow their blessings through the elements. To be chosen by a watcher, and given a token is a rare and Honorable gift, for the token has the ability to bring you back from death one time. Both these beliefs play a HUGE part in the story, but I can’t really talk about them without giving away spoilers.
I felt that Jiara’s dyslexia was dealt with brilliantly, we really feel for her in the first part of the book. She is terrified not only of moving to another country, but having to learn that language or face the inability of not being able to communicate with her husband and people. With no one knowing of dyslexia she faces constant criticism for her inability to learn the written language. There are times when she gets frustrated, wants to throw in the towel, but the more time she spends with her people the more she wants to communicate with them. She grows so much from a shy and naive girl to a Queen many of her people would follow.
As well as this being a fantasy story, we also have a murder mystery. Who exactly killed Jiara’s sister? We spend a good portion of the book on this and I will admit to guessing the culprit early on, but it was still a shock when it was fully revealed. There are plenty of twists and turns, some slightly predictable and others that definitely threw me, but they made for a fast paced story that I struggled to put down. The romance was sweet and went at a nice slow pace. Jiara has always found the King of Farnskager attractive, but he was meant for her sister, and she spends a good portion of the book trying to overcome her feelings of betrayal and let herself love the man who clearly loves her. I would have loved for Raffar to have had a bit more page time and character growth. Because of the language differences he doesn’t really make as much of an impact as I would have liked, and I would have loved a chapter or two from his POV.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The pace moves fast and the author builds a world I would quite happily go live in. The story is wrapped up nice and neat, but the author leaves just enough of an opening for further stories in that world, and I would definitely pick any up that were released.