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Review: The Last Namsara - Kristen Ciccarelli

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
Series: Iskari #1
My rating: {★★★★☆}

YA Fantasy
Expected publication: October 3rd 2017 by Hachette

Source: Hachette Australia via NetGalley
In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.
I was thrilled to get the notification that I had been approved to read an ARC of this gorgeous book because DRAGONS!! A huge thank-you to Hachette for this opportunity.

Please note that any quotes used are from an ARC copy and as such may not be present or the same in the published version.

In so many ways, The Last Namsara is a sheer breath of fresh air. I wasn't even ten percent into the book and I was already completely invested and absolutely LOVING the story and the interactions. The world was cleverly laid out piece by piece, drawing me in with each page - slowly describing the history and current state without info dumps and revealing information piece by piece.

It has such a unique premise: a fierce female who is definitely NOT conventionally beautiful is a dragon slayer - THE dragon slayer in fact. Many years ago, dragons turned against people and are now, upon the order of the king, to be hunted to extinction and Asha does just that. She proudly wears the scar of a dragon burn - a burn that she barely survived when she was just a child - and she slays every dragon that she can find.

In order to coax the dragons to her, Asha uses the old stories, forbidden stories. The old stories provide a temptation that the dragons cannot resist, but they also make the dragons stronger - providing them with the ability to breathe fire for a start. However it was these very same stories that have caused so much grief and loss in Asha's life, for the old stories are like a poison and her mother wasted away with the sickness that these stories brought upon her. It was the old stories that caused the First Dragon himself to be drawn to Asha when she was just a child and it was the very same dragon that burned her and then burned the city in which she lives.
"Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things.
Things like forbidden, ancient stories.
It didn’t matter that the old stories killed her mother. It didn’t matter that they’d killed many more before her. The girl let the old stories in.
She let them eat away at her heart and turn her wicked.
Her wickedness drew dragons. The same dragons that burned her
ancestor’s homes and slaughtered their families.
Poisonous, fire-breathing dragons.
The girl didn’t care."
The story of a girl trying to escape her betrothal is not a new one, but this is far more than a YA fantasy novel containing dragons and a dragon slayer. It is the story of an entire world and it's social hierarchy - the leaders, the conniving and the corrupt; the story of slavery and degradation and how cruel people can be; the story of the power of words and legends; the story of how a person's self worth can be shaped and twisted by others and overall how important self love is and where true strength lies.
“How should I be looked at?” . . .
“Like you’re beautiful and precious and good.” . . .
But Asha remembered the sight in the mirror.
She knew what she was.
“I’ve spent my whole life believing lies.” . . .
“Please,” she whispered, “no more.”
It is a complex world with complex interactions, especially depending on social class, however sometimes the characterisation seemed to fall a little short and I wanted more from the secondary characters in this story. I wanted Asha's family (Safire and Dax especially) to be more present and real and not just used as plot devices. It was for this and a couple of plot holes that I just couldn't bring myself to rate this one any higher, which I would have loved to!

As far as character development goes I did love watching Asha grow and change throughout the book and she was not only relateable but I liked her: It's hard not to love such a ferocious and yet vulnerable character. The romance was also great for me - who doesn't love a forbidden romance inevitably doomed to fail?

Now, for the important part - THE DRAGONS! Kristen Ciccarelli managed to bring a fresh new point of view on dragons in YA Fantasy. I liked the mythology, the history, the interactions between the dragons and humans and the fact that dragons played such a big part in the story - they were not simply a plot device or an afterthought, they were fundamental to the entire book.

The Last Namsara is a well nuanced, richly imagined fantasy story and a wonderful debut full of tragedy and adventure. I cannot wait to see what Ciccarelli has in store for us in the next book.
Maybe everyone did have a song in them—or a story. One all their own. If that were so, Asha had found hers.
And here she stood at the beginning of it.