(The Shadow War Saga, Book 1)
Elana A. Mugdan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Shivnath Productions
Format: Paperback, 374 Pages
Date: 15th October 2018 (First Published 2016)
AN ANCIENT BATTLE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL IS ABOUT TO RESUME
Cut off from the outside world by a vast, sacred mountain range, the people of Aeria live happily oblivious to the existence of foreign lands, never imagining that someone in their midst could be destined to save a world no one has seen. And who among them would ever believe that fourteen year old orphan girl, Keriya Nameless, the unlikeliest of heroes in her village, would cheat death and be chosen by the dragon god, Shivnath, to strike the decisive blow in the looming resumption of an ancient battle between good and evil?
Dragon Speaker is a YA novel that doesn’t shy away from its many fantasy tropes. Instead, author, Elana A. Mugdan, adopts all of these tropes in order to subvert them in various ways, thereby sidestepping reader expectations, and injecting unexpected surprises into the narrative. So, while this may be yet another tale of the young orphan with a great destiny, that adheres to the well established “Hero’s Journey” structure, the conception and writing of the protagonist, Keriya, diverges enough from the expected norm to distinguish her as a character from the likes of Frodo Baggins.
From the outset, Keriya is never a reluctant hero burdened by her call to adventure. Perhaps because of her lifelong outsider status among her people (on account of her unusual physical appearance and her inability to wield magic) she immediately embraces the mission bestowed upon her, and the subsequent opportunity to leave the constraints of her old life behind, possibly for good. With no regard for the perilous nature of the quest, she sets off on a journey, propelled by the naivety of youth and enthusiasm for being a hero, to fulfil her destiny as a dragon speaker who must summon and protect the only dragon in the world, before killing the man whom she is told is the physical manifestation of evil. Along the way she is accompanied by a disparate cast of reluctant, sceptical allies who have little faith in her.
Though Keriya is the heroine of the book, Dragon Speaker is a multi-POV story, granting insights into how events are viewed through the eyes of the characters around her. As is to be expected of a YA a book, the narrative moves at a swift pace (particularly early on) which proves to be somewhat detrimental to developing these supporting characters to any great extent. This is a pity. Some readers are sure to find Keriya quite annoying at times, and will no doubt appreciate the occasional respite from her POV, yet they may likewise feel frustration at not being able to invest in her counterparts because of the lack of meaningful development they receive.
Away from characterisation, Dragon Speaker’s principal strength lies in its world building; the author really excelled in this department. The lore created by Mugdan for her setting is so well conceived. Both the history of the world, and the nature of the central conflict at the heart of the saga is compelling. And, surprisingly, there is a degree of nuance in this age-old tale of good versus evil that is typically lacking in YA books. As the story progresses, Keriya eventually comes to question her assumptions about this struggle, and the motivations of the various players. Perhaps the answer as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys isn’t quite as simple as she initially believed.
In conclusion, Dragon Speaker is a fast paced, enjoyable first instalment to a fantasy series that can only get better. The final act in particular is engrossing. While it might lack the depth that adult readers would seek from a potential read, there’s little doubt that the target audience of YA fantasy readers will greatly appreciate what is on offer.