Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Review: Dragonfly by Julia Golding

One of the most pleasant surprises of 2015 was this book: Dragonfly by Julia Golding. I was expecting rote YA fantasy - what I got was a sensitive, moving, and action-packed examination of cultural and religious conflict and cooperation.

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

Princess Taoshira of the Blue Crescent Islands is appalled when she is ordered to marry Prince Ramil of Gerfal. And he's not too pleased, either. She is used to a life of discipline, ritual, and splendor. He is used to hunting and carousing. They hate each other on sight. But both of their countries are under threat from a fearsome warlord, and the only chance of peace is to form an alliance.

When Tashi and Ram are kidnapped, they fear there's no escape--from their kidnappers or from each other. Can they put aside their differences long enough to survive ambush, unarmed combat, brainwashing, and imprisonment? And will the people they meet on their adventure--including a circus strongman, a daring rebel leader, a sinister master of spies, and the best female fighter they have ever seen--help them or betray them to the enemy?

Arranged marriages, clashing religions, warlords on the move, and two teenagers who really just want to be their own people - this is the backdrop for Dragonfly. Though the novel takes place in a fantasy landscape, the peoples deal with a lot of the same problems: bigotry, religious and cultural differences, duty verse desire, and serious threats to our countries and ways of life.

Here are 3 more reasons why you should read Dragonfly:

1. An authentic and empathetic portray of religious and cultural diversity: Apparently this is one of my 2015 themes, since it seems to have cropped up in a lot of the books I read this year. If you are looking for a book that tackles these issues head on, but in a fantasy landscape, look no further.

2. The worldbuilding. This plays into #1. I felt totally immersed in the fantasy landscape. The depth of the world really drew you into the story and helped you care about all of the many people and allegiances. The religious systems added to this as well, with the antagonist's brutal, bloody religion, Tashi's goddess and ritual centered system, and Ram's casual Germanic god system, all in tension and playing into the plot.

3. The examination of faith. Specifically Tashi's faith. Saying any more would be severe spoiler territory about one of the strongest/most compelling parts of the book. I liked how Ms. Golding handled Tashi's belief system being challenged, and how Tashi had to make her faith her own. This was a very interesting plot element (and it had quite a bit to do with the plot). Also, the persecution she faced was raw and realistic. Persecution is a terrible, terrible thing, and all too real and relevant today.

Minor Quibbles: Since I have taken a vow of review honesty, I must put down a few of these (since I had them)

1. The romance felt a little slapdash, almost like an afterthought. (Or like it was required?) I really would have liked to see more of the developing friendship first. The characters chemistry as friends was better, and I would have liked to see them take their time.

2. Some of the side characters detracted from the main story. They were introduced fairly late, and I just didn't care as much about them, and they were a distraction. I feel like their stories might have been better saved for future books.

Overall: 3.75 out of 5 stars. An intelligent fantasy novel about compromise, faith, courage, and doing the right thing, Dragonfly really stands out from the crowd. Tashi is a uniquely strong heroine, and she was probably my favorite part of the book.