Hey everyone! I’m very excited to be able to participate in the tour for A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert! This cover is so pretty and the contents of this book were so good. It’s definitely going on a favorites list for me and possibly a re-read list too. Thanks for stopping by for my review and favorite quotes from this book! I hope you enjoy!
Thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours and Flux for allowing me to participate! Be sure to check out the tour schedule for all the amazing posts this week!
I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler free, honest review, and all thoughts and feelings are my own!
A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Publisher: Flux Books
Genre: YA Fantasy
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.
The cover of this book is so pretty, it was the first thing to catch my eye. Then, I read the synopsis and I was hooked. We have a vengeful ghost hunting down her family until they can track down her murderer. Her little sister, our main character Jiara, struggling to take her sister’s place as Raffar’s bride and learn the language and customs of Farnskag, her new home. All the while, she has to avoid being hurt or killed by her sister’s ghost and dodge the people trying to take her out now! It’s so much going on for this poor girl and it was such a good book!
“The tattoos. The dark leather instead of our colorful muslins and silks. The choppy language that had earned him and his countrymen the name Bone Eaters, as if they had fish bones caught in their throats. His broad shoulders. The unexpectedly warm eyes and full mouth. The impossible look that had passed between us that one time, just before Scilla’s engagement…”
Let me start off by saying that I loved how Jiara’s character, while sad to leave her home, was so open to learning about the new culture of her husband and his people. While Raffar breaks tradition and marries Jiara before she turns eighteen, he is very strict on not consummating the marriage until she is an adult, which I appreciated. Even though Raffar is only a few years older than Jiara, I believe nineteen or twenty in the books, his honor and respect for his laws makes him keep a promise not to do anything with her until she’s a legal adult. While Jiara is only a few months away from eighteen, I still appreciated our characters waiting until she was old enough and seen as an adult in the eyes of the law. It made me love and appreciate Raffar’s character even more.
“Crash! The sound came from the sitting room. I rushed there. No animal, no person. But the chair I usually sat in when working with Aldar rose up a few inches and dropped down with another bang. Then it wobbles back and forth, clacking on the floor, first the left legs, then the right, again and again. It could only be Scilla.”
And while Jiara has dyslexia, she is still willing to do what she can to learn Farnskag and speak the language. I could tell how frustrated she got trying to read and learn from flashcards as Aldar, the king’s cousin and translator, tried to teach her. Learning a new language is hard, but learning with dyslexia is even harder. But it’s clear that Jiara has a strong will and I was so happy to see her push through and find ways to learn that worked well for her.
“Hands still covering my ears, then pounding furniture backed me up against the wall. What if Scilla sent them all flying at me at once? She could break my bones, my back, my neck. The corpses of her grandparents had been discarded like dolls, the serving woman had said, and I imagined Raffar or Freyad or Aldar finding my mangled body here.”
In terms of the plot, I think this book did really well to balance everything out. We got to see Jiara in her home, travelling with her new husband, learning the culture of Farnskag, and the magic of the Watchers, all without it feeling rushed or dragging along. Every scene with the Watchers just made me feel really delighted and happy to read, but then we had the moments with Scilla’s ghost, and it definitely sullied the mood. While I was sad Scilla was murdered, I thought the vengeful ghost aspect of this story was really cool. Although, it’s not so cool to find out that the ghosts can become so angry that they murder their family in rage. But with Jiara trying to juggle being a new Queen and finding her sister’s murderer, the scenes with Scilla’s ghost helped put Jiara back on track and gave us some really dramatic scenes!
“My throat closed up at how hard I’d been trying since I had arrived and never feeling like it was enough. I still hadn’t found Scilla’s killer. I was so slow with the language and the customs. But the Watchers found me worthy in some way, and my heart warmed at the idea.”
And the magic of these kingdoms is really, really cool! The Watchers, beings who control the earth, sky, and water, can also be guardians for the citizens of Farnskag. Meanwhile, in Azzaria, Jiara’s home country, they have a similar belief through different gods, four of them instead of three, though they are much less involved compared to the Watchers. And while Jiara doesn’t necessarily believe in the Watchers at first, it’s clear she still respects them and appreciates them. Jiara as a character is just so wholesome, even when she’s frustrated or angry, it’s usually always with herself and she handles it in such a calm way (except when she’s trying to be murdered).
“I gave in and listened to her tales, imagining a lake as big as Azzaria’s sea, with a horizon that stretched on forever.”
My only disappointed with the entire book was the predictableness of the murderer. I wasn’t sure if that was purposeful, and we were supposed to know who the killer was halfway through, but I definitely knew by halfway. It was pretty clear who it was and while it was fun seeing Jiara piece all the clues together, I wished it wasn’t so obvious. Though there were still plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming and overall, I still really liked this book! It was kind of fun trying to figure out how to prove it was the person and piece together what really happened to Scilla.
“Not including Scilla’s murder, the gods must have blessed my life. In the months since I’d come to Farnskag, I’d come to love Raffar. I loved Freyad. I loved the towering trees and the damp air of the forests and the laundry rain the old people made from their balconies. I loved playing Capture the Queen and the looks on the soldiers’ faces when I congratulated them on a job well done. If I hadn’t come to Farnskag, I’d never have seen a lake explode with light. Or been pulled out to sea by a dolphin. Or felt the surface of a monolith with my forehead. And we horrible as things were with Aldar, I was doing my best for Farnskag, and I vowed to keep at it with all the strength in me.”
Overall, this was such a fun book and there’s a lot about it that I really loved. It almost gave me Soulswift vibes, but in a very, very different way. The magic, the characters, the cultures, and the plot were so well crafted and I can’t wait to read more from this author! I’d even be down for a sequel if there’s one in the works, but this book ends on such a good note, I don’t think one is really needed. Definitely a favorite of mine and I highly recommend!
Laura Rueckert is a card-carrying bookworm who manages projects by day. At night, fueled by European chocolate, she transforms into a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura grew up in Michigan, USA, but a whirlwind romance after college brought her to Europe. Today, she lives in Germany with her husband, two kids, and one fluffy dog.