The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccerelli
Publication date: 12 October 2017
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 slayers
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
The Last Namsara is the YA fantasy debut that everyone needs to be talking about. I’m a little torn on this one because there was so much that I really loved about this book, but I also had some issues.
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.*
I love the world that Ciccarelli creates for her novel. There are so many tired fantasy tropes that she twists, creating a fresh world. From her handling of the old traditions often seen in fantasy cultures (the old stories), to the warrior princess (Asha, the dragon slayer), to her handling of dragons themselves, she takes these old tropes and makes them feel so different. I really loved that people are rebelling against the old ways — Asha’s father, the dragon king, is trying to wipe out the old traditions that have become poisonous to the people who carry them on. Ciccarelli creates such a rich, wonderful, fantasy world and I just want to read more. In fact, this series would be the perfect candidate for a Language of Thorns-style companion book of fairy tales and mythology.
Asha is exactly what I want to see when I read about a strong female character. She’s incredibly sure of herself, physically strong, stubborn, and so fierce in her beliefs. However, she has the capacity to love and to learn and change. She’s in no way a ‘lone wolf’ character — she loves, trusts, and protects, which is something I feel we don’t often see in strong fantasy ladies. I absolutely love her character arc, although I wont say any more about it.
In fact, all the female characters in this book are fantastic. Safire, Asha’s cousin, is a wonderful force in Asha’s life and they have a wonderful female friendship. Roa, whom we know little about at the moment, seems to be set up as a strong and important character later on in the series.
Where I have issues with The Last Namsara is with the male characters. Jared, Asha’s fiancé and tormentor, is a classic mustache-twirling villain. He’s lewd, physically and emotionally abusive, and an all-around horrible man. That’s fine, because he works incredibly well not only as a villain, but as a looming force in Asha’s life. My issues actually stem from the good men in her life: Dax, her brother and the heir to the throne, and Torwin, Jarek’s slave and Asha’s eventual love interest. I like Dax well enough except in his treatment of Asha, which I will explain more about in a moment. Towin, however, I have a big problem with. For me, it felt like he fundamentally misunderstands who Asha was as a human. He keeps trying to manipulate her emotions and actions so she’ll do what he wants, which he thinks is best for her. However, if he knew her at all, he would understand that the choices she makes so obviously reflect who she is (my apologies for being vague — I’m trying to avoid spoilers). Dax is also guilty of this — he’s so wrapped up in himself that he doesn’t see or understand her. The men are just so clueless.
The biggest problem I had with Torwin is that his behavior so closely reflects that of Jarek. Jarek is always grabbing Asha, digging his fingers into her arm hard enough to leave bruises. He’s so physically domineering over her. At one point, Asha and Torwin are arguing and he grabs at her, much like Jarek would do. He crushes her body to his until all the fight goes out of her. How horrid is that? I would be slightly more okay with these actions if he were set up to be a bad guy too, but I highly doubt that’s the case. To me, this glamorizes abuse in a way that YA books have been so guilty of of the past. Just because she’s a physically and emotionally strong character does not mean she needs to be manhandled in order to be ‘kept in line’ with the hero’s wishes. Violence does not equal passion and I’m sick and tired of seeing this in books.
Despite the issues I had with the romance and love interest, I really do believe that The Last Namsara is so worth your time. I am very particular about my romance — I am not sure these issues would bother a lot of readers. In terms of plot and world building, this book would get a 4.5 out of 5 for me — same with the female characters. However, the handling of the romance ended up knocking it down to 3.5 stars. Regardless, I am so looking forward to continuing this series. I think Ciccarelli is an author to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
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Have you read The Last Namsara? What did you think? Is it in your TBR? Let me know!
*Copy courtesy of Goodreads