Thank you to North Star Editons and Netgalley for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not change my opinion in anyway.
Book: A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert
Release Date: August 3rd 2021
Tags: Fantasy | Young Adult | Murder Mystery| Royal Politics | Dyslectic MC
Trigger/Content Warnings: Death of a Loved One | Ableism
When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the murderer is brought to justice. While the entire kingdom mourns, Scilla’s betrothed arrives and requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride to confirm the alliance between their countries.
Marrying the young king intended for her sister and traveling to his distant home is distressing enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara abandoned any hope of learning other languages long ago. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land where she’ll be unable to communicate.
Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin comes from the king’s own country. If she marries the king, Jiara can hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s ghost, whose thirst for blood mounts every day. To save her family, Jiara must find her sister’s killer . . . before he murders her too.
A Dragonbird in the Fern is a heart felt fantasy YA standalone sure to take you by surprise.
I’ll start right off by saying that the whole plot will not be the surprise. Her going after her sisters killer and who it ended up being was not that surprising. But that was the backdrop. The front and center was our Jiara.
Jiara, as the youngest princess, had always known what her place was going to be. She was betrothed to a royal of their country. Her brother was to become the king (with his male partner might I add) and her sister was to marry a prince from a neighbouring country to strengthen their alliance. She was fine with this. But when her sister is murdered all her own plans gets thrown with the wind when an offer of marriage comes from the hand of her sisters former bethrothed.
As a person Jiara would have preferred to have hidden away more. Both her older brother and sister had bigger responsibilites in the limelight. Jiara was fine with supporting her mother and later her brother. She’s always felt stupid as studying never came easy for her. Especially writing and reading was hard.
While dyslexia is not named in the storythe author makes it clear in an authors note and through Jiara’s description that it is that. Jiara is dyslectic. And when is the last time you came across that, in a YA fantasy at that. I liked how it was dealt with. It was more accepted at home but in a new country she has to learn a new language. And nobody listens to her prefered method of learning which is verbal with the visual items or handling along side. No she gets taught with written words. Jiara is a powerhouse and because she is determined she is learning through her own method by placing herself in situations where she has to learn the language with hands and feet. Its hard. But she does it. She learns that she is not stupid. She is very smart. And she can learn another language despite her disability because she knows what works best for her. I liked that.
Other elements I liked was how everyone was so aware of their duty. They would never go beyond that but at the same time they all still had their own desires. How Jiara was the wild child but that just seemed accepted. How Jiara found her sisters bethrothed attractive when she first met him. How her sister found peace so important that she went to make a secret alliance even before her marriage.
I also enjoyed seeing how adoption and succession of the throne was (small) topic). And the relationship between Jiara and Raffa. There was a willingness and trust between them that developed over time. Also how he was so adamant not to have sex before she was 18.
And of course there was her sisters ghost that haunted the family. I found it interesting to see how far her sisters ghost was able to travel. How Jiara wasn’t angry with the ghost. How her understanding and emotions could sometimes sooth the ghost down. I thought it was an interesting addition to the story. Because so often in stories like these, the murdered party kind of gets forgotten along the way, until the end of course when they catch the murderer. That wasn’t the case. There was a living embodiment of her sister right there. She never lost sight of that. But it wasn’t revenge. She just wanted to make sure her sister could rest in peace.