There's something to be said for a story that can finish in one go. Now, this novel is also set up perfectly to be the first in a series, but if you're not of a mind to find the sequel, this story has been neatly sewn up, signed, sealed, and delivered. This is an increasing rarity in the trilogy world which speculative fiction/fantasy tends to inhabit.
You know what else is rare? Consequences. I love high fantasy, with fights and clashes and weird creatures and spells... but no one ever seems to sweat in those books. Emergencies? Oh, surely, but there's Magical Assistance (TM) for that, and they practically have their own 800 number. Injuries - dealt with, easily - someone can always "do" healing. There's limitless supplies of energy and derring-do. No one is too cowardly or craven for long. Fantasy mimics the best of the hero's journey - sure, there's scattering, there's setbacks, but our hero is steadily going upward, and the story always follows.
Except this time.
This time, the cowardice isn't simply good for a three page soliloquy. This time, it means losing a friend without having a chance to say goodbye. This time, magical assistance is mistimed - the chance to lend help to the one who needed it most is gone forever. I was...surprised. And, when all the dust is cleared, the consequences persist. What is taken is not magically given back. Fantasy has fetched up against some pretty realistic barriers. I like. Though the novel ends slightly awkwardly, the language is precise, and clear, and the slightly distractible Ifor reminds me of some of Ursula LeGuin's sociologist characters - busy studying the world, not always the best at conversation that doesn't go off on tangents, but kind and gentle and mostly wise.
And, we didn't even need the boost that the author self-published. After some really, really good experiences via Cybils, I still am really intrigued by a good story told by an "underdog" author, finding their way through publishing with very little help. It's definitely not something my risk-averse self is able to do, but I'm happy to give a really good story the type of reading and word-of-mouth sharing that it deserves.
The author, a former ethnohistorian and archaeologist (and current book cover designer - she drew her own - and school librarian) living in Western Australia has said quite a few intelligent things about writing. I was nodding firmly as she noted on her personal blog that "fantasy, written properly, is a difficult genre to handle." She goes on to note that you can't just throw things in without rules, including magical rules, which must be both defined and followed. She didn't note cause and effect and consequences, but she really does show them, and I can't help but think that their inclusion is what makes this adventurous novel stand out.
While this book was published by CreateSpace in 2013, it's now available both in paperback and as a Kindle ebook.
Concerning Character: Fifteen-year-old Kira has the rather humdrum life of being her brilliant father's only child and being a lady of the upper classes of Timberlee, in the kingdom of Myrtonia. Life stretches ahead of her with few surprises -- and as she accompanies her father and his friend, Dr. Hingel, to market, nothing prepares her to see a child knocked into traffic. Hearing the screams of the bystanders and the horse's pounding hooves, Kira hides her face, so doesn't see what really happens -- that her father stretches out his hand and -- pouf! -- saves the day. The child levitates.
Kira -- gobsmacked -- has had no prior warning that her father was a magician -- none at all. So, when he hustles her home and instructs her to pack lightly to leave immediately is her first hint that something is wrong, really wrong. The second is his punishing pace as they leave the city - practically in silence. He hardly answers a single question, except to tell her that he's broken the Oath of Brynd. But, the Oath of Brynd is sworn by wizards who have broken the law... criminals. The penalty for breaking the oath is death -- in the horrific Verebor Prison.
Kira is horrified to discover that not only is her staid, tutor father a murderer, there's no way that they can escape capture. None. And, though well-meaning people do their best, everything is spiraling down and falling apart. Nothing in Kira's life has prepared her for this - nothing.
What happens, when everything you thought you knew turns out to be a pleasant fiction? A smart girl digs for the truth -- and Kira finds it, first about her true circumstances, then about her family, and finally about herself, most of all. An adventure with dragons, exile, magical battles and secrets, this novel is a fun summer read for all ages. It's written for young adults, but there's nothing in it which would be unfortunate for someone younger than 9 to read.
You can find MARK OF THE DRAGON QUEEN by KATIE W. STEWART in paperback or Kindle, via Amazon.