Stormrise by Jillian Boehme
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This started off reminding me of the Chinese legend of Mulan. The men in the country are called up to war, and a young woman pretends to be a man and takes her father's (in this case, her brother's) place. She learns to fight and fights well, and after the war is over she returns home in triumph. In this case, there is also magic and dragons (the former made specifically from the bodies of the latter), and a teenager named Rain L'nahn, who runs away to save her brain-damaged brother Storm from going to war. To conceal her "monthlies," she buys a pouch of powder before she leaves, powder made from the body of the ancient dragon T'Gonnen. This causes her to dream of his mate Nuaga, and eventually she finds Nuaga in the flesh and released her from a centuries-long sleep. To save the kingdom, Rain and Nuaga must release the rest of the dragons from a similar sleep. Rain has to do this while still pretending to be her brother Storm, navigating basic training with her unit, and journeying with them to save the High King...and along the way, she discovers one of the other soldiers in her unit, Forest, is the betrothed of her sister Willow. (It was an arranged marriage, which is why Rain has never seen him or known who he was before. And of course she falls in love with Forest.)
If all this sounds a bit angsty and soap-opera-ish, it is. This is not a terribly deep story, either in characterizations or worldbuilding. The side characters are not very fleshed out, and the love interest Forest is just bland. I also question some of the plot choices. The antagonist, Sedge, is a right bastard though most of the story, behaving like a nasty caveman when he discovers Rain is female, and at the climax she suddenly forgives him because he saw his ass was grass and threw in his lot with Rain and Forest? I don't think so. The ending is particularly unbelievable. Just because Rain almost single-handedly saves the High King, he is going to throw away centuries of tradition, allowing Rain to become a grandmaster in this society's martial art of Neshu and teach young girls this same art, just because she asks? Misogyny and patriarchy is not that easily overcome, alas.
What bugged me the most was the dragons. They are just weird. They are six-legged, with fur and manes instead of scales and horns. I tried Googling to see if this was based on any Chinese or Oriental dragon myths, but I couldn't really find anything. That really stretched my suspension of disbelief, and snapped it outright at some points.
This seems to be a self-contained story, which is a good thing, as I wasn't going to continue even if there were further books. It's okay, but there are better young adult dragon fantasies out there.
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