by Jessica Cluess
reviewed by Margaret McKay-Lowndes
The author’s website describes her new book House of Dragons as “the intrigue of the meets the cast of if they rode dragons into battle” and it is difficult not to agree with the author’s assessment.
The ‘loser teens’ story is played out in the warmongering world of Etrusia, which is imbued with the magic of Order Vs Chaos and is mapped on the geographical layout of Europe and North America. Emperor Erasmus has died and the Great Dragon has therefore called five challengers, with their dragons, to battle it out for the throne.
The catch is that somehow the Great Dragon’s signal has been lost in translation and five unsuitable, unqualified and unexpected teens are summoned. Each with a clearly defined personality and talent, teamed with distinctly individual dragons, they deliver their version of events in alternating chapters.
Emilia, from the House of Aurun, with her faithful dragon Chara, is an introverted intellectual with a dangerous secret. Lucian Sabel, with Tyche the dragon, is an ex-soldier who wants to choose a peaceful path by becoming a Sacred Brother and looking after the poor. Vespir is the fiery servant girl of the Pentri family, a dragon whisperer in love with the daughter of the house, Antonia. Ajax of the Tiber, with his dragon named Dog is the one who often throws the spanner in the works and is the source of much wry humour. Finally, Hyperia, the ruthless golden goddess of the Volscia with her magnificent fighting dragon Aufidius, has her own tale to tell. Relationships among the teens wax and wane and although some characters have serious flaws, Cluess always manages to keep the reader on their side.
The five candidates must engage with four challenges: The Hunt, The Race, The Game, and The Truth. As each challenge is revealed, the intensity of the plot is dialed up, keeping the reader intrigued until the explosive conclusion. Will Emilia’s true self be revealed; will Lucian break his vow never to pick up a weapon, will Ajax bring them all down and why have these seemingly unqualified adolescents been chosen?
Themes of acceptance, equality, and pacifism emerge. Intense, sometimes violent scenes are interspersed with occasional humour and romance, always delivered in a richly descriptive prose which evokes luscious landscapes and a sumptuous feast of colour and light.
Fans of YA fantasy fiction (think, Hunger Games) will relish this fast-paced, meaty read.
Penguin Random House 2020 Paperback $19.99 448 pages ISBN ISBN: 9780593305447