E-book provided by author.
This a fantasy novel following Astrid, a blacksmith, who lives in a world of dragons and of shape-shifters. Initially involved only in that she made swords for Dragonslayers, she find herself involved in a much greater turn of events in something that began beyond her own memory, and continues way beyond her home.
The first thing that I really like about this book is the plot. When do we have a blacksmith as a protagonist? Never. But why not- they're strong, determined and hard working. They sound made for the role. This kind of quirky uniqueness was a big plus for me because it was so different to your everyday sword and sorcery fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I adore sorcery, but I appreciated this difference in style and outlook. It made the experience that bit sweeter.
The plot itself was very linear. We don't get long travelling monologues or description, which I know makes some people scream for joy, but the first time I got this feeling it jolted me a little. I felt like she'd travelled miles in a matter of words and drew me out just a bit. I imagine if it had been a long drawn out description, I would have complained a little as well, the only difference is that the jolting was painless. It didn't stop me enjoying the book, and the conversations and events in the areas she goes make it easily a fantastic involving story- it rendered the travel commentary unnecessary.
The two main fantasy elements (dragons and shapeshifting) are very quickly introduced in a perhaps merciless manner. But the tone of writing doesn't make you think that this ignorance will last. We're not told everything at once, but neither we left in the dark. We're given what we need to know to get by, and we can learn the rest ourselves. Usually the lore and specifics of both are revealed as time progresses and we get a more rounded view of it, which matches how Astrid learns.
The shapeshifting is a self-perception idea. Astrid can make herself appear as she sees herself or wishes herself to be; equally she could change someone else's appearance. I loved this embodiment of the idea that we are who we want to be, and others shouldn't change us (in the book it's considered bad manners to change another's appearance). Everything we encounter and see is how we choose to see it, which is the foundation of prejudice. Calling something beautiful or ugly is a mix of feelings and pre-conceptions. The shapeshifting takes this is step further to say that this power, this belief, can have an actual affect on people. A strong man may become weak merely because someone sees them as weak and (intentionally or not) compels this view onto the man's shape. I just really like the idea as well that if you are self-confident, or happy with who you are, then no one can change you at all.
I'm not going to lie that I was a bit dubious about the last part of the story, not the actual last chapter/conclusion. It felt like a rather separate story to the original plot, and I didn't expect it to continue as it did. It wasn't bad in itself, but I wonder whether it should have went there or what not. Also, as with the travelling, bits occasionally felt rushed over; as though it was necessary as part of the plot, but nothing else. It just had to happen.
Otherwise, this is really great fantasy. It's a short book at 286 pages long, but it keeps one riveted such that it could be comfortably finished in an afternoon. It's something I'd recommend to a fantasy reader because it's a pleasant and different read. I don't feel like I had to try hard: I could just enjoy reading it.
Be sure to read my review of the sequel in the next few days, and come back on January 24th for the blog tour stop of book two, The Iron Maiden.