This book tore my heart out numerous times. I can’t even express to you how many times I felt like the book could have ended so happily only to turn the page and experience the exact emotions of Luke Skywalker upon discovering that Darth Vader is his father!
I just finished this book last night and I am still processing. There were a lot of emotions throughout this story, and trying to sift through them is complicated. I think I’m just going to have to give you a list of the 10 things I loved about this book.
1. I’m not sure how to “title” this first point… so I’m just going to explain it, instead. This is the sort of book that has time-traveling capabilities. It’s the kind of book that pulls you in and refuses to let you go. It’s the sort of book where you lose all track of time and think, “I can’t have been reading for very long… I’ll just read one more chapter.” Only to look up and discover that your afternoon has disappeared. I love that kind of book, the kind that is so immersive that you don’t even notice you’ve spent several blissful hours reading.
2. Leah Wellstone. The main character was absolutely delightful. I tend to prefer male MCs and it can often be difficult for me to connect with female protagonists… particularly female protagonists who are telling the story from a first-person POV… so this is VERY high praise, indeed, because Leah has taken a place in my heart on the “favorite characters” list, and that is no easy feat! Unlike so many typical first-person female protagonists these days, Leah was not at all a whiny, self-absorbed, angry teenager with low self-esteem. She wasn’t a perfect Mary Sue, either. (A “Mary Sue” for those unfamiliar with the term are “perfect or idealized fictional characters who are able to perform tasks better than they should be able given their experience”) Leah was definitely not that. She had her share of flaws – she is shy, she’s a little naive and a bit too trusting at times, and she struggles with doubts about herself and whether or not she believes in the Luminate (this world’s name for God).
3. Rafe. Prince Raphael, to be exact. While there were times I wanted to step into the book and absolutely wring his neck for being terribly stupid, I just couldn’t help but love him, as well. Though he is impetuous, a bit reckless, and entirely too oblivious to how he takes his position for granted, he means well, and you just have to love him for trying so hard. Despite his flaws and youth, the author does a fantastic job showing that he truly does have the makings of a great leader and king…
4. Unexpected twists and turns. Another thing I loved about this book was how it kept me on the edge of my seat. I had no idea where it was going to go next. Leah runs into several obstacles throughout the story and with each one I was left wondering, “How in the world is she going to overcome that?” She always had a plan of some kind, but I could never predict what it would be.
5. This is another point I don’t have a name for… Emotional Investment, maybe? The story ripped my heart out multiple times… not just once, like normal stories… but it also did a good job stitching the pieces back together.
6. Friendship/Romance. I loved how Rafe and Leah were friends, and how it was obvious that they had been friends their whole lives, before they fell in love. I’m not always a huge fan of romance, but the kind I tend to like best is the kind that just sort of happens naturally and feels believable as the story unfolds. This was exactly the sort and amount of romance I enjoy in a story. There were emotions and a couple of kisses, but even though their romance was central to the story, it wasn’t overpowering and the plot and character development came first. I also loved that part of the building blocks of their friendship came through Rafe teaching Leah to read when they were children!
7. The gentle fairy-tale elements to this fantasy novel. There was a lovely fairy-tale feel to this story, though I didn’t notice it at first. For the first three-quarters of the book, it honestly doesn’t even seem to have very many overtly “Fantasy” elements to it, either. The “not our world” medieval castle/royalty setting was the only clue to the genre for much of the story. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but there are some more fantasy elements that come through later in the story that took me pleasantly by surprise!
8. Leah’s Mother. It would have been so easy for the author to make Leah an orphan. SO EASY. But I’m just thrilled that she didn’t. Leah’s Ma is an incredible character and a wonderful mom (which was a neat side-benefit to reading this in May right before Mother’s Day) and there just aren’t enough of her kind of character in fantasy. I appreciated the tension that having her mother around added to Leah’s life and the decisions she had to make… as her mother is both strong of faith and capable as a seamstress, but also not in the best of health.
9. Gretchen. Leah’s best friend did not get a lot of page-time, but she was a fun little bundle of energetic addition to the story. I loved that Leah had a fairly normal existence. She has a good position as a chamber-maid, and even has potential to move up in the world. She has a loving mother, good friends, and even her “boss” is stern, but kind, and thinks highly of Leah.
10. The end. I can’t say ANYTHING about this because SPOILERS but I will say that it is beautiful and perfect and I did NOT think it was going to be because the story seemed determined to prevent the ending from being anything like what I was hoping for… I think the thing I appreciate most is that the author let certain characters be far more than caricatures. People can change. Circumstances and events of magnitude can change minds and stances. Even those set in their ways can learn humility and wisdom. And that is illustrated beautifully at the end of this book.
11. Honorable mention: the nuns were another favorite aspect of this story, but I really can’t say anything about them without giving away spoilers…. so…. just go read the book yourself and then we can discuss!
Five Dragon Eggs – and I can’t wait for the sequel… and I’m not even upset or bummed that the sequel is about different characters, that’s how satisfying the end was!