A Dragonbird in the Fern
Rating - ⭐⭐1/2
"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 is an upcoming standalone YA fantasy novel by Laura Rueckert that is coming out on August 3rd.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Flux for providing me with a copy for review. Please note that in no way does this affect my opinions. Also note that because what I received was an ARC, things may be subject to change for the final copy.
I don't think that was quite the experience I was expecting to have when I picked up this novel. Nothing that happened really had an impact on me and I thought that a lot of elements didn't make a lot of sense or didn't translate well onto paper. Here are my in-depth thoughts on why I think so.
I thought that the writing by itself was well done and easily digestible for the most part. Where I take issue is slightly with the vocabulary and with the pacing. One of the main regions that are featured in this novel is Farnskag, and it took me a long time to be able to pronounce it properly in my head. I get the need for fantasy books to have creative names, but it dampens the experience a bit when you can't pronounce something.
In terms of the pacing, I found that most of the plot was pushed towards the end as the majority of the book focused on things that I didn't think were particularly important to the narrative. Any reveals that were key to the story were also revealed either too early or too late considering that this is a standalone.
I have several issues when it comes to the plot, but let's start at the beginning. Due to her sister's death, Jiara takes her place in an arranged marriage with the king of Farnskag. I am not a fan of arranged marriages in the first place but what bothered me was the logistics of it. It didn't really make much sense in my mind to ally with someone who does not know the language or culture of the land they are marrying into.
I would say this is me nitpicking as there wouldn't be a plot without this, but the language barrier led to another issue I had with the plot. Jiara struggling with the language and trying to learn it took up majority of the plot. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it was not what I wanted from this novel. I was expecting it to focus on the murder mystery aspect, which was there, but I felt like the synopsis mislead me.
An important element of Jiara's land are the earthwalkers, who are spirits of the dead who haunt their family until their death is solved. In theory, this is an interesting concept, but it didn't translate as well as I thought it would. I wish that Scilla would have had more of a prominent role other than going around and scratching people.
Jiara's homeland, Azzaria, I thought was interesting as it was surrounded by water like Venice. It is a bit of shame that not a lot of time was spent there as most of the book is spent in Farnskag. As different regions, they have different cultures and customs, which I did appreciate, but they were bogged down by Jiara's struggle to blend in.
Aside from the earthwalkers, Azzaria's culture was only mentioned in passing. There were brief mentions of their belief system, but the book focused more on the figures that the Farnskag revere which were interesting, but weren't utilized very well.
As I have already said, Jiara is a bit of a frustrating character because more often than not she is wallowing over the fact that she is having a hard time learning a new language. She also felt a bit useless which may be a bit harsh to say. Her betrothed, on the other hand, Raffar, fell a bit into the background. I didn't feel like his character was used to his full potential.
In terms of their relationship, I thought that it developed way too quickly and was a bit uncomfortable. We didn't really get to see their relationship fully develop which made me not believe in it. What made me uncomfortable was how Jiara was handling her newfound marriage and attraction to Raffar.
This book suffered mainly because it mislead me as to what the main focus of the plot was going to be. I went in expecting more of a murder mystery and what I got instead was mainly Jiara adapting to a new culture. I wish that the plot was more focused on what the synopsis suggested it would, and I would have liked for the characters to be more fleshed out as well.
If you are looking for a fantasy book with murder mystery elements, then I would suggest you try out House of Earth and Blood.