Author: Ellen Oh
Series: The Dragon King Chronicles #1
Series: The Dragon King Chronicles #1
Publication Date: January 2, 2013
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 312 (ARC)
Source: Borrowed from a Friend
The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes.
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.
It is very hard to rate this book. As a high fantasy lover, I was looking forward to it. As a regular reader, I was eagerly anticipating it. And as a lover of both Graceling and Eon, the quote on the back of the ARC that reads "It's Graceling meets Eon in this action-packed fantasy adventure by the debut author Ellen Oh" really, truly, undoubtedly put me into a frenzied excitement. However, I feel as if this quote was there simply to let me down. Did I enjoy this story? Yes, I did--but is this story even within the realm of how much I enjoyed the aforementioned high fantasies that it is being compared to? No, it is nowhere near their caliber. While Oh has the creativity and imagination that can rocket her future novels to the same standings as truly cherished high fantasies, her debut cannot rival them because there are still some aspects of her writing that need to be perfected to be able to allow her writing to be compared to the amazing skills of Kristin Cashore and Alison Goodman--two of my favorite high fantasy authors of all time.
In this review, I want to address three things in particular: the characters, the writing, and the pacing. I feel as if the novel would have been way better if these three factors were better fleshed out. It would have taken this average and enjoyable novel to one that completely blew me mind.
First off, the characters. They were plentiful and extremely varied, but overall predictable and, at times, dry. Our heroine, for example, is very strong, independent, and determined. I enjoyed her focus and determination, but did feel emotionally disconnected from her. I enjoyed her character and her faithful loyalty in protecting her younger cousin, Prince Taejo, but I did not enjoy Prince Taejo. He had his random bouts of heroics and I know that's a lot to ask from a twelve year old, but he seemed more like a damsel in distress then a boy training to be a warrior and a future king. Half of the time he was mad at Kira for always being with him to protect him and the other half of the time he was literally guilting her into getting his way because he must always be with her. It was too back and forth and his characterization in particular frustrated me immensely. I did enjoy other characters like Kira's brother, Kwan, as well as the somewhat love interest, Jaewon, but none of them seemed fully fleshed out to me. There was a great lack of emotional connection throughout the novel and a general distaste for others because their emotions were so conflicted. Example: Shin Bo Hyun, loyal bully and insane son of a psychopath that seems to truly be attracted to a girl he victimized for her entire life. He wants her, but he wants to hurt everyone important to her. Way to earn the brownie points, man.
Next, the writing. I'm really thankful for the world that Ellen Oh was able to create. I loved the Asian lore that she created--something she so evidently loved enough to write a novel about. This aspect of the novel fascinated me, easily held my attention, and kept me reading. However, that is where my liking of the writing wore off. My biggest problems with the writing style used by Oh is that it was simplistic, and while I enjoy simplicity, it almost feels as if Oh was trying to use the least amount of words possible--leaving us with little to no detail about a majority of the happenings in the novel alongside a huge misunderstanding of the time passing in the story. If she were to truly flesh everything out from emotions (which I felt there was none of) to detail of most events besides the fighting sequences (which again, I felt there was none of) and a better explanation of passing time (because, honestly, I have no idea how much passed in this novel though I know it was several months), I would be much happier. Take this 300 page novel that can only be described as proficient, add a whole ton of glorious detail and turn it into a 450ish page book and I guarantee we have an amazing tale. What really hindered me from loving this one was the lack of detail. As a lover of high fantasy, detail is something that is nearly required in the tale because they are so complex. The setting, for example. I still don't have a firm grasp of the Seven Kingdoms despite the map that is included in the front of the book because the descriptions were never truly clear to me. High fantasies are just...fantastical (I know, cliche, right?). So much so that no detail makes way for confusion instead of open admiration at the sheer creativity required to write such a complicated made-up land that is normally instilled in high fantasy lovers.
Because of the lack of detail, I had a very hard time grasping the pacing of this story, though I think this can also be contributed to the short chapters. Straight to the point, there was no proper way to see the passing of time. Oh would mention that we were in the tenth moon and several chapters later we get the hint that we're in the twelfth moon. I literally had no grasp of time management. I had no clue how long the characters were spending in certain locations. Treks that were supposed to take days seemed only to take one long, never-ending day. Months passed by in what felt like hours in their world. I seriously have no other way to describe this. I wish that there was more attention payed to time management so the direness of the situation could better be stressed.
With all of that being said, I did like this book and the amazingly unique Asian lore that Oh brought to the table--something that I don't think is often found in young adult literature these days. I do plan on picking up book two with the hope that Oh can improve on the writing style exhibited in her debut novel. Do I think the comparison to Graceling and Eon prepared this novel for the inevitable disappointment that a reader walks away with after reading this one? Without a doubt. But is it still enjoyable? It is, if you can try to set aside the comparisons and similarities in your mind. If anything, I actually recommend this book to non high fantasy readers. I feel as if this book will be more enjoyed by those who are unable to compare it to some of the novels that I consider to be the best books I have ever read. For most high fantasy readers, this can't compare and can only lead to disappointment if you do not enter it with a clear mind and no judgment based on past readings. Oh's storytelling shows clear promise, but she has to master her writing technique first to be able to truly explore such a complex tale and a unique world to the extent that I hoped she would. I'm not ready to give up on her just yet with the promise of more to come in book two and the hope of a changed writing style to come, but I now know to go into book two with more realistic expectations than I did its predecessor. I'm hoping that this simply satisfactory and good novel can eventually rocket to greatness.