The Phoenix Born (A Dance of Dragons #3)

Title: The Phoenix Born
Author Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #3

For the first time in a thousand years, the fire dragon has been awakened and Rhen is its rider. But after destroying the armies that threatened the city of Rayfort, Rhen is shown a vision in flames that changes everything. The shadow’s phantom armies are coming and the dragons are the only things that might stop them.

High in the castle at the top of the Gates, Jinji has learned something of her own. Janu, her long lost twin, is alive. And just as the spirit shares her body, the shadow shares his. In the blink of an eye, her quest for vengeance against the evil that killed her family has changed to one of protection. Because she knows that if Rhen learns the truth he will do what she cannot—end the shadow, and end her brother in the process.

As the shadow grows more aggressive, Jinji and Rhen fight to find the rest of the dragon riders. But with time running out, they are forced to face the impossible decision between honor and love. Alliances are formed, promises are broken, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance…

Rating: E-

They learned how each other moved, how they flew, how they fought. But most of all they bonded, formed a friendship.
Don’t bore me with details on the character- and relationship development. That might actually give them some depth and make them interesting and who would want that?
At the beginning of the book, Jinji uses her magic powers to rebuild a city that had been destroyed in a battle and heal the people that were injured during the attack. She spends almost a day doing that before she collapses. But not because using magic is physically exhausting, but because seeing so many dead and injured people takes an emotional toll on her. Fortunately, trauma can be healed by a hug from your boyfriend so she can go on to use some magic to convince the different sides in the battle to stop fighting each other and fight the Shadow instead.
All of this happens in the first three or four chapters and makes it very clear that the characters won’t need to worry about any of the things most other fantasy protagonists do. Somebody doesn’t believe them? There’s a person with essential god-like powers who can impress them till they change their opinions. A serious injury? That can be solved with little more than a snap of the fingers? No food? Same. The only thing Junji can’t do is teleport but then the other’s have dragons that can cover huge distances in minutes. (That, or the whole book takes place in an area roughly the size of Liechtenstein). Frankly, that makes for some very boring reading.
Of course, there is still the Big Bad of the series but what makes fantasy exciting is that the protagonists have to deal with a lot of stuff besides fighting the Big Bad. Here, the only other things that are going on are Jinji and Rhen’s relationship “problems”. In quotation marks, because they can be summed up with ‘You lied to me about something major. But when I think about it for a few paragraphs I can understand why you did that. Now I have betrayed you but you also forgave me after a few pages. And it’s not like either of our betrayals had any real consequences (except the deaths of a few thousand people but let’s ignore that since we did not know any of them).’ So these parts are also really boring. Which results in an exceptionally boring book.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of the series so far:

 

The Bronze Knight (A Dance of Dragons #2.5)

Title: The Bronze Knight
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #2.5

Princess Leena arrives in Rayfort with one thought on her mind–getting the information that might stop her father’s armies to Prince Whylrhen as soon as possible. But once there, she quickly realizes the situation is far more dire than she ever anticipated. Abandoned by Jinji and Rhen who were sent away by the king regent, Leena is left alone with an impossible decision to make. Stay in Rayfort and fight with the rest of the doomed city. Or risk a life on the run for the chance of survival.

Rating: F

“For the hope that one day, I’ll be able to return home, to a kingdom changed, to a kingdom that has tossed cruelty to the side and replaced it with love.”

Let me get this straight: We spent all that time establishing that the Ourthuri, in general, are evil and it’s not just Leena’s father who is an evil ruler. He didn’t decide to execute all his wives who didn’t bear him a son immediately, that’s an Ourthuri custom. He didn’t introduce slavery, that’s an Ourthuri custom. He didn’t decide that minor offenses warrant a cruel punishment, that’s an Ourthuri custom. Leena herself says about her culture that in it “each moment of beauty [is] scared by some hidden darkness.” Because those Arabs are just evil. Sorry. Of course, I mean the Ourthuri. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that Ourthuro resembles a middle-eastern place. Or that only Ourthori women wear veils which, today, is something mostly associated with Muslims. I’m sure they aren’t meant to be the evil Arab stereotype from a bad 80s fantasy novel…
Where was I? Right. Leena’s plan. She wants to help the Whylrhen defend themselves against the Ourthori attack. And then attack Ourthuro herself? Or just hope that after the lost war her people will be so devastated that she can waltz in and announce “Hey everybody! I know you hate women and never listen to them, and you will hate me even more because I broke some traditions…oh and also because I betrayed you to our enemies. But anyway have you considered being not evil?” And then everybody starts singing ‘Love, Love, Peace, Peace’ and they can live happily ever after?

That is a shitty plan. And all this could have been avoided if it had been just Leena’s father who was an evil king. Or at least the last in a line of rulers that got progressively worse. Instead, we get a people with all the depth of the orcs in Lord of the Rings (only hotter) and only our protagonist with her awesome sue-powers and some convenient cannon-fodder is speciul enough to see that and fight it. It doesn’t make sense.
Well, and the plot itself…repeated what we already know from the previous novel. Plus some new information that will probably be repeated in the next novel. I still don’t see the point of these novellas.
ARC provided by NetGalley.

The Spirit Heir (A Dance of Dragons #2)

23477260Title: The Spirit Heir
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #2

Drenched in darkness and surrounded by the echo of screams, Jinji waits deep in the dungeons of Rayfort, haunted by the memory of the knife stabbing Rhen, plagued by a foreign voice whispering through her mind. A few floors above, Rhen rests trapped in a coma, about to wake to a changed world–a world where his best friend is a woman, his nephew is the king, and an enemy army surrounds him on all sides.

But human wars are insignificant compared to the darkness gathering unseen. Memories of lives she never lived flash through Jinji’s thoughts, hinting at a past that cannot be repeated. A mysterious phantom visits Rhen, carrying cryptic messages of the future. And somewhere out there, the shadow continues to lurk in silence.

Startled by their altered relationship and tempted by new feelings, Rhen and Jinji must find a way to work together. The fate of humanity rests on their shoulders and the real battle has only just begun…

Rating: D-

“And at least soldiers chose to fight, chose to risk their lives in combat”

Do you really want to go there? Are you really saying that in ye olde pseudo-medieval fantasy world everybody joined the army because they just loved fighting/their country/both so much? Nobody did it out of necessity, because they couldn’t find another job but needed the money or just because it was a family tradition or simply anything but Duty. Honor. Courage.?
Nope. Our soldiers are the good ones, our enemies have the evil ones/the poor slaves that are forced to fight (delete as appropriate…the book can’t make its mind up either).

There are good bits in this book. It still occasionally makes good points about sexism and racism. And it has a great scene when Jinji – who is in the palace and feels very uncomfortable among the nobility because they are all so racist – basically wins a staring contest with the queen and thinks that now nothing the other nobles do can bother her anymore. Only a few pages later it’s again mentioned how uncomfortable she is and the scene with the queen is never mentioned again.
However, my favourite bit of the book is when Jinji gets captured and imprisoned again very shortly after she has been chained up in a dungeon for three weeks. Does that bother her? No, but immediately afterwards she throws a hissy fit of jealousy because Rhen talks to another woman. Because fuck PTSD and trauma, what’s really important are you pants-feelings.

Talking about Jinji and her WTF-decisions/emotions: she’s hearing a voice in her mind and the voice claims she wants to help Jinji fight the mysterious Shadow that’s causing all the problems in the book (well…all the problems not caused by evil, sexist fantasy Arabs). Jinji is not convinced and worries that the voice in her head is actually the Shadow who is trying to trick her and refuses to listen. Until she hears that the Shadow has attacked people after she started hearing the voice. Clearly, a mysterious magical entity that has enough power to force people to attack their loved ones can’t be inside Jinji’s head and somewhere else. That would be illogical.

Despite all that I’m still less bothered by this than by the novellas about Leena inventing feminism, and we finally got dragons in this book. About bloody time. And I just didn’t hate it enough for one star.
ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5
Review of book 1
Review of book 1.5

The Silver Key (A Dance of Dragons #1.5)

25727975Title: The Silver Key
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #1.5

Weeks have passed since King Razzaq discovered Princess Leena’s affair and banished her lover from the kingdom. So when Mikza suddenly appears in the golden palace, chained and bound, Leena is floored. Even more mysterious is the man he travels with—a redheaded prince of Whylkin.

Unable to control her curiosity, Leena follows the strange convoy, hiding in the shadows as they meet with her father. But what she witnesses will the change the course of her life, and the world, forever.

Taking place parallel to the events in THE SHADOW SOUL, read Leena’s side of the story as she teams up with Jinji to save Rhen’s life and seeks to escape her father’s hold once and for all.

Rating: E

What do you think the men fighting these battles would want? To live, knowing they helped my father destroy thousands of lives? Or to die at the hands of something greater?

Well, I would guess they would want to make that choice for themselves instead of a sad, spoiled princess making it for them but what do I know? After all, they are just peasants. And non-noble characters are just there for the canon-fodder (and to make Leena feel a bit bad on occasions). Noble men are just there to remind us constantly that this society treats women horribly. As in ‘let’s take the worst of every really existing society and mix in some bad dystopias’-horribly. Which is a) annoying because come on. This is fantasy. You can make up everything and come up with women being utterly worthless? and b)

Because this society is clearly based on a middle-eastern/Arab one and in the previous book we saw the white guys treat their women better (still not equal but definitely better) and I’m just saying the author should have thought more about their world-building.

Now when it comes to noble women: we only see Leena. Who invented feminism. And who is still the only one who sees something wrong with this society. Other women are just too vapid and silly for that. At least that’s what I assume since no other women is even mentioned (except Tragically Dead Mom(TM)). Leena has no friends, isn’t close to her sisters…nothing.

Ugh.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5 in the series
Review of book 1 in the series

The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1)

20903363Title: The Shadow Soul
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #1

When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

Rating: D

The world building in this was just very confusing. Jinji and her people are clearly inspired by Native Americans. Including that one day the white men – Rhen’s ancestors – came, took their land and suppressed them. But…they suppressed them…only sometimes a bit…or something. The only thing Jinji talks about is that they are not allowed to speak their language anymore. To make sure of that a guy visits them once a year and checks on them…And Jinji still speaks the language (though it is not clear if she is fluent or if she just knows some words that can’t be translated in the language of the ‘Newworlders’).
I just got the impression that the author had realized how problematic Pocahontas is but enjoyed it nevertheless and wanted to rewrite it with less evil oppressors but still wanted to keep the oppression at least a bit. Just like in the prequel novella I read, it seems that there didn’t go that much thought in the worldbuilding.
I also couldn’t make out how many ‘Oldworlders’ there roughly are. We don’t get any number for Jinji’s tribe but I had the impression they were roughly 100, rather less than that. Are there any other natives in this world? Perhaps but probably not. At least, I think so. Jinji repeatedly says that she is the only one left after her tribe was slaughtered in the beginning of the book. She could mean that she is the last of her tribe (the Arapapajo) but other tribes are never mentioned. Were there ever others? Were there ever more Arapapajo? Who knows?

Sometimes the book does things well. For example, when Jinji thinks about how she will continue disguising herself as a boy as long as she is in the city because being a Native among white people sucks but being a Native girl would suck even more. But at the same time, the bad guys in the books are a) Ye Olde Fantasy equivalent of Arabs and b) as cliché-evil as you can get.
Seriously, I was surprised that their king wasn’t introduced stroking a black cat. He’s evil because he’s evil and enjoys laughing diabolically.

The rest of the book is also not more than average. The plot just…happens. I rarely had time to worry too much about the characters because they are never in danger for very long. Chapters frequently ended in cliff-hangers, which were then resolved in the course of the next chapter. Often with the help of plot-convenient magic but nobody really wanted to talk about that magic because reasons.
So, yes I liked this more than the prequel novella but it still wasn’t that good.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5 in the series

 

 

The Golden Cage (A Dance of Dragons #0.5)

21892106Title: The Golden Cage
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #0.5

In the land of Ourthuro, cruelty is a way of life. The king rules with an iron fist and no one dare defy him–no one except his daughter. Princess Leena is keeping a dangerous secret, she has fallen in love with a soldier and it would mean both of their lives if her father ever discovered their affair.

But Leena will risk it all to be with the man she loves–her heart, her life, her freedom. And when her brother’s birthday celebration takes a dangerous turn, Leena is forced to make a decision that will change the fate of her nation and eventually the world.

Rating: F

This is the story of Princess Speeciaal Snoowflaake in the country of Eveerything Is Hoorrible Aand We Like Voowels A Lot. Which isn’t really an improvement over Every’thing is Horryble And We L’yke Apostrophes and Ys a lot since the naming conventions are not the problem I have with so many fantasy novels.
So Ourthuri is a Horrible Place. It is so horrible that the Queens get killed if their first child isn’t a boy.

Would you like me to go into why this is an extremely stupid thing to do and an incredibly cheap plot device to show that this place is horrible?
No? I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway.

First: noblewomen worthy of a king don’t grow on trees. Noblewomen, in general, don’t grow on trees but the fact that usually not every noble family is considered high-ranking enough to provide a future Queen/the mother of the future ruler (just as Franz Ferdinand. Not the band. The Arch Duke. Even if he hadn’t met a very unfortunate end, his children wouldn’t have succeeded him on the throne because their mother wasn’t noble enough…she wasn’t even noble enough to get a space in the family-crypt which is why Franz Ferdinand and her rest somewhere else…and that was a short excursion to the house Habsburg). Killing them off, just because they didn’t manage to produce an heir immediately is cliche-villain-evil and stupid.

Second: even if we assume that every noble is equal and everybody can marry the king: shouldn’t a lot of noble families go ‘You know what? We have this nice marriage proposal from a different noble family which is a lot less risky. We really prefer them.’
I mean there is no mention of any superstition connected to what influences the gender of children. (Along the lines of ‘if she is pure enough and never has improper thoughts the child will be a boy’). They should know that if they marry their daughter to the king there is a 50% chance of her dying. So the have the choice between ‘marry her to a random noble, forge some connections, perhaps gain a bit wider influence’ or ‘marry her to the king, possibility of gaining a lot of influence but just as likely to go back to square 0 (or even further since presumably having a daughter who ‘failed’ would cause a loss of prestige)’.
Yeah. There’s always going to be people who try but the king in this story needed 13 wives to get a son.
Thirteen.
Henry VIII is laughing about him.
And how big is that bloody country that they have 13 noble families with daughters that are the right age to marry/not yet promised to somebody else/noble enough for a king/willing to marry their daughter to him (especially after he went through…the first 6 wives or so).

Having voiced my minor misgivings about some details of the world-building let me come to the plot.
Now, this is a 50-page prequel-novella which means it doesn’t have terribly much plot (I also need to point out that I seem to have a problem with prequel novellas in general. They might be set chronologically before the main books but they tend to be written more for the people who have already read the main books…so bear that in mind).

The story revolves around Princess Leena, one of the middle of the king’s 12 daughters. She can breathe underwater, is unhappily in love with a palace guard (to clarify: not unhappily because he doesn’t love her back, unhappily because the love to a mere palace guard is forbidden) named Mikzahooq (bless you), and is special because she is the only one who can see how horrible everything is.
Out of all these things, I would have been really fascinated by the ‘magically being able to breathe underwater’-bit but that’s the one we learn least about. In fact, we only learn that she can do that and she wonders if she got it from her mother but doesn’t even go into details about whether magic is common in this world or not.

What we do learn over and over again is that Leena’s and bless-you’s love is pure and sad and that Leena is special because everybody else is stupid.

[After a description of how she and her half-sisters are all sitting on thrones, dressed in fine clothes]

Like statuesque decorations in flowing dresses and jingling jewelery, their faces were hidden behind veils. A backdrop. Pieces of art to be admired. Leena Sighed. Of the twelve princesses, she seemed the only one uncomfortable with the whole display.

Of course. Leena quickly invents feminism. Nobody else had misgivings about that before. It can’t possibly have to do the fact that nobody else has voiced those misgivings to her because the king is a tyrannical psychopath and trusting the wrong person could be fatal. Move on. Oh by the way: the veils are not made of fabric but of tiny golden chains. Oh symbolism. So subtle. Much wow.

000fd4eh

A cage invisible to everybody it seemed except her. But it was there.

Or don’t move on and keep going on about this.

A princess. But it was not how she saw herself. This girl was weak, demure, meant for nothing other than a life of birthing sons. Leena wanted so much more for herself.

Yes and you are the first one to think like that, my dear. When Leena is not moping about not being like the other princesses she has weird ideas about property:

Her clothes belonged to the maids that dressed her. It was their job to rifle through her drawers. And the topside of the bed belonged to the servants who snuck in every morning to carefully pull her sheets back into place and fluff the pillows. Even in her room, nothing truly belonged just to her.

Yeah. Sure.

What she actually bemoans here is that she doesn’t have any private place to hide things. Which is a valid concern but so different from ‘Strictly speaking, my pretty dresses, belong to my maids’, that I do not know where to start with all the wrongness.

So…yeah. Plot. Leena and bless-you-guard want to escape because true love. Will they succeed? You have to read this novella to find out!

I have the whole series as ARC-bundle so this is going to be fun. But then the author’s prose is rather nice and perhaps this just suffers from crap-prequel-syndrome.
I hope.

ARC provided by NetGalley.