Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Title: The Last Namsara
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Publication date: 12th October 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: There are some stories that are too dangerous to be told…
Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she's sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the terrible deed she committed as a child; she told one of the forbidden stories, one of the stories that summon the deadly dragons and that killed her mother. In doing so she almost destroyed her city and was left her with a terrible scar.
Only the death of Kozu, the first Dragon, will bring Asha true redemption, unite her father's fractured kingdom and allow her to avoid a horrifying arranged marriage. But no matter how hard she tries, the temptation to tell forbidden stories is something she cannot resist.

My thoughts: Oh my goodness, what a book! There is so much wrapped up in this wonderful story it's hard to know where to start.

Telling a story out loud calls to dragons, and causes people to become ill. But since Asha needs to get close to dragons in order to kill them, she tells old stories when she's alone. It's worked well for her so far, and things seem set to carry on that way - except that Asha is due to be married very soon. It's quickly revealed that her fiancé Jarek is vile. He's abusive, physically harming Asha's cousin to manipulate Asha into doing things he wants. There were so many ways throughout the book that he controls Asha, and others. This was a bad guy who I could truly hate.

Knowing she doesn't want to marry this man, Asha's father promises that if she kills the oldest dragon, he'll break the engagement. Like the best traditional stories, she's got just a few days to achieve the impossible task, with new challenges and setbacks interfering all the time. Add in to the mix a slave who she's rescued from the vile Jarek and is now trying to keep secret, while he challenges her loyalties and ideas about the slave class, along with protecting her cousin and keeping her storytelling a secret, it's a lot to handle for one young woman.

What I love about this book is how stories are so intricately woven through it. Apart from the obvious aspect in the plot with stories being forbidden and their magical ability to summon dragons, sections of the book are broken up by short stories from the history of the city & its people, which provide a nice interlude, deepen the world-building, and, you gradually realise, add more clues about some of the plot twists. Then there's the feeling of the story itself - I mentioned an impossible task, and it feels like a very traditional, old-fashioned story in that way - something like the Thousand And One Nights, or a fable. The story has a strong emphasis on spoken storytelling; oral tradition. I think the book itself echoes this: I could definitely imagine sitting on the floor by the fire while someone tells this story.

It's such a rich book. The writing is incredible, I want to read it again, and get the audiobook so that I can have that experience of listening to it; it really really feels like it's intended to be spoken, like the interlude stories. It reminded me of what I love about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - there are many little episodes along the way which make a cohesive whole. There are so many twists in The Last Namsara. Part way through, when I could see the general structure of the story, I thought 'there's no way she can wrap everything up and do it justice in one book'... and yet, Kristen Ciccarelli does exactly that. The ending leaves it open for a sequel, but everything was wrapped up in The Last Namsara that I wanted to see. I could gush about this book all day, so let me stop there, and add only that it's a ten star read for me, and one of my top five books I've read this year. Just incredible storytelling.


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