The Last Namsara by Kristen CiccarelliThe Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
Series: Iskari #1
Published by Gollancz on October 5th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 304
Goodreads

A gripping YA crossover series from a spectacular new voice in the genre.

Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things.

Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she's sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the wicked deed she committed as a child - one that almost destroyed her city, and left her with a terrible scar.

But protecting her father's kingdom is a lonely destiny: no matter how many dragons she kills, her people still think she's wicked.

Even worse, to unite the fractured kingdom she must marry Jarek, the cruel commandant. As the wedding day approaches, Asha longs for freedom.

Just when it seems her fate is sealed, the king offers her a way out: her freedom in exchange for the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard.

And the only person standing in her way is a defiant slave boy . . .

THE LAST NAMSARA is an extraordinary story about courage, loyalty and star-crossed love, set in a kingdom that trembles on the edge of war.

4 Stars

I decided not to re-read the premise prior to picking up The Last Namsara but go in completely blind, and it was the best decision I could’ve made. This debut took me by surprise in the way it drew me into its world of dragons, gods, and magic stories. I WAS SO DOWN FOR THE DRAGONS. I definitely got some How To Train Your Dragons vibes from this, guys. Move aside Eragon, The Last Namsara has come to claim your place.

At first glance, The Last Namsara seems like your generic Young Adult fantasy, and I thought I’d grown tired of those. However, something about this book pulled me in. I was intrigued by the feisty but troubled main character, the character dynamics, the forbidden romance, and the gripping plot. Objectively, I could give a slightly lower rating due to the issues I had, but The Last Namsara had me so invested, racing through it within a couple of hours, that I cannot but give it 4 stars.

➽ The first chapter had me doubt whether I’d like Asha – the heroine, princess, and dragon hunter – or not. She struck me as one of those bland special snowflakes that get on my last nerve. But I was wrong. Though Asha is treated as special, it is not because she is particularly adored. Rather, a dragon attack she provoked, which affected her township as well, has left her scarred, shunned, and feared. Asha’s disfigurement – a burn scar running from her forehead down her left side – takes up a major part of her introspection, but more so does her belief that she is wicked. I really liked how the topic of self-love was handled; Asha wears her scar with a certain degree of pride but it also causes her a lot of vulnerability and self-consciousness. Further, she is treated like a cursed person – someone corrupted by the magic of ancient stories – and so she thinks of herself as one. Asha has never forgiven herself for costing people their lives in the dragon attack, and it made me warm up to her fairly quickly. The characters I wouldn’t want to trade places with always grow on me. Her character development makes her all the more likeable. Like many spoiled princesses raised in a palace, Asha has little understanding of the disparities of her world. Throughout the book, Asha is challenged in her beliefs and starts developping a mind of her own.

No one could know the truth: after all these years of trying to right her wrongs, Asha was still as corrupt as ever. If you opened her up and looked inside, you’d find a core that matched her scarred exterior.

➽ I was quite intrigued by the character dynamics. There’s a web of interactions which are impacted by hierarchical rank, blood ties, and/or ethnicity. The side characters could have been more thoroughly characterised but they all had key roles in the plot. The icy relationship between Asha and her betrothed reminded me a lot of the movie Titanic, to be honest. This is certainly not the first fantasy in which a princess tried to get out of an arranged marriage but this one was interesting to watch, as her betrothed was a narcissist of the worst kind. Further, I quite liked Asha’s bond with her half-cousin Safire which took up the spot of “female friendship” in this book. The romance commences swiftly after the beginning. It’s not insta-love – or at least not on Asha’s part – but it did irritate me a bit at the beginning. However, it later becomes clear how and why the romance developped the way it did. The chemistry between Asha and Torwin kept me at the edge of my seat. It is not a unique romantic subplot by any means but I’m a complete sucker for forbidden romance, ok? If you disliked Kestrel and Arin’s relationship in The Winner’s Curse, then you might find yourself opposed to Asha and Torwin’s as well. Though this is not your typical master-slave-romance, since Torwin is her betrothed’s slave (not hers), it does involve bridging a gap in the societal hierarchy.

➽ But now, let’s talk about the dragons, shall we? I loved the idea for this story, being that dragons crave good storytelling and are able to tell stories themselves through images upon touch. The plot entails a lot of hunting dragons, fighting dragons, learning to understand dragons. Didn’t I tell you this reminded me of How To Train Your Dragon? Hence, it didn’t take me long to be pulled into the story, perhaps two chapters at best. The Last Namsara weaves together political intrigue, forbidden romance, and the storyline of Asha’s personal growth. There’s a certain predictability to the plot, of course, because we just know by now what course certain YA fantasy stories take. Nonetheless, it astounded me how tight I was in this book’s grip. I literally had to force myself to put this book aside and go to sleep; it was that addictive.

One of the issues I had with The Last Namsara was its world-building. Though Ciccarelli had certainly put a lot of thought into it, I just couldn’t get a proper sense of where I was when plunged into this world. From the town’s name Firgaard, I assumed that Asha’s kingdom was inspired by Skandinavian culture and Vikings (which, again, is a similarity to How To Train Your Dragon), but there weren’t a lot of other clues for me. On the contrary, her use of the word caftan for some of the clothing confused me, as I had hitherto associated it with North African/Middle Eastern cultures. The clash between two ethnicities in this realm is important for the political subplot, but the kingdoms didn’t seem distinctive enough. What I did love is the big role stories and the gods of old play in the book. There ware several stories written between chapters. They both give the reader a better idea of how those might have looked like but also filled in gaps in the kingdom’s history. Some might find that info-dumpy but I thought it worked really well with the overall storyline.

➽ Ok, so you probably know how much I loathe books in which heroes/heroines make stupid decisions in spite of their intelligence to drive the plot in a certain direction. At some point, Asha turns a blind eye to an obvious conspiracy in favour of the plot. It would’ve taken a different – or rather, a more abrupt – direction had she chosen to act on the apparent clues she had. She seemed suspicious but she didn’t ponder over it which was weird. I just don’t like it when that happens, I really don’t.

Once or twice, small things in the plot didn’t quite add up. In addition, the reader is sometimes given (hasty) explanations rather than having an epiphany of their own. A few times, this happens because Asha doesn’t come to a realization and needs another character to open her eyes. Other times, it just seemed like information needed to be purposefully repeated in order for the reader to have an “Ohhh right” moment. I don’t fault Ciccarelli for this, as this quality is perhaps something an author acquires with years of writing experience. Ideally, you’d do the kind of foreshadowing that doesn’t necessitate info-dump later on to make the reader come to a crucial realization. For me, this point of criticism applies mostly to the ending.

Overall, The Last Namsara was a pleasant, captivating read that kept me entertained, invested, and on my seat for several hours. I admit that my brain had been deprived of literature for longer than I would’ve liked, which may very well have influenced how much I enjoyed this book. Albeit not particularly original or outstanding, this dragon-featuring fantasy has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment, in my opinion, and I’m curious to see where Ciccarelli is heading with this series.

**I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts are my own. Quotations may be subject to change in the final copy.**