“Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things. Things like forbidden, ancient stories.”
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 darkness—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 learning 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.
DISCLAIMER: I received a finished copy from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.
CW: slavery, violence, animal death, graphic injury, domestic abuse, suicide, loss of a loved one, implied sexual assault
You would think that a series so heavily featuring dragons would have fallen onto my TBR sooner than this, but what matters is that I’ve read it! At last!
Centered on Asha, the Iskari of Firgaard, The Last Namsara features a whole host of satisfying bits and bobs. For one, there’s dragons (which, tbh, are the pinnacle of things to stick in your book), but there’s also the satisfaction of seeing terrible people get what they deserve, of feeling stories unfold with greater weight than ever, of watching change unfold in a messy and terrifying way.
Actually, come to think of it, as much as I love dragons, it was the storytelling part of The Last Namsara that I think deserves the most mention. Kristen Ciccarelli divides the story into a present narrative and a series of stories set in what feels like a past both mythical and unerringly true. They alternate with a precision I have to admire, building on one another and playing to the strengths of the fact that this is a novel. This is storytelling. This is the power of words to bring pause, breath, change, everything.
And given that the prose itself is stunning, it’s no surprise that the theme that words have power carries through so clearly. I’m impressed by the mastery over tone and turn of phrase, and it absolutely adds to the experience.
So too do the dragons, which you can’t possibly have expected me to leave out. Beasts that thrive on the ancient stories, lent power by the words being spoken aloud, they are at Asha’s mercy. As the Iskari, it is her duty to hunt them down, eradicate them from Firgaard as penance for her past. Except there’s complications (because of course!), and maybe the dragons aren’t as violent as they’re made out to be. Maybe they’re not nearly as much to blame.
These two elements above all else had brilliant interplay, and I loved the result. Plus, the concept of the dragons taking strength from the old stories is phenomenal, with just the right amount of magic that cannot and need not be explained.
On the flip side, this was a three star read for me, which was a bummer in the wake of the hype surrounding the series. Some folks I follow on Twitter absolutely rave about The Last Namsara, and I was disappointed to find that it fell short of expectations.
For one (and brace yourself; if you’ve been here before, you know what’s coming), the romance was about as exciting as finding a dead gnat in your water glass. Which means it was boring and vaguely gross, but also not going to ruin my entire day. At the same time, it just wasn’t good. See, when you introduce enemies to lovers, I get the greatest enjoyment out of it when we’re taking two (or more, frankly) characters on a level playing field. The second you do this with one character who is a princess and another who is a literal slave, and then you spend half the book with the princess doing her best to dehumanize the slave so she doesn’t have to confront the issue of slavery?
Yeah, I’m not getting the chemistry there. I’m really not.
Granted, the issue of slavery doesn’t go unaddressed and excused. It’s part of the plot progression and character arcs to confront it, so that’s a plus. The way it ties into the romance is what leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth and no inclination to cheer from the rooftops about how good this is.
The other thing I think The Last Namsara struggles with is depth. The entire trilogy is actually comprised of companion novels, which can technically be read in any order, but work best in publication order. As a result, the pace and depth leave something to be desired. Beautiful writing, the Iskari series has in spades. Astonishing depth of character and a plot that feels something beyond pleasantly predictable, it does not possess. And for me, that’s a let down. Not a deal breaker, but certainly a barrier to five full stars. I like my fantasy complex and full and vibrant, and not held at this measured distance in the name of maintaining powerful prose.
That’s not to say this is a bad book. It’s FAR from a bad book. For me, the three star rating comes down to a large chunk of personal taste, and a rare case of outstanding execution in some areas, and mediocre execution in others.
Isn’t subjectivity fun?
But that said, if you like dragons, enchanting prose, and characters forced to confront their understandings of the world, The Last Namsara might just be for you! See about giving it a try, whether you buy it, request it from your library, or stick it on a wishlist this holiday season.