About the Book:
Title: A Dragonbird in the Fern
Author: Laura Rueckert
Page Length: 352
Publication Date: Aug. 3, 2021
Synopsis: 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.
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When Princess Jiara’s sister is brutally murdered before she can marry the king of a neighboring land a solidify an alliance, Jiara agrees to marry in her sister’s place. Jiara’s sister Scilla, now an Earthwalker, won’t be at peace until her killer is found. As Jiara travels to an unknown land with her new husband and learns how to be a queen, Jiara is plagued by communication issues, brewing war, her sister’s impatient and violent spirit, and traitors in her midst.
This is such an immersive and intriguing story! The setting is unique and vivid, and I love how the author paints such a clear picture of each kingdom. Jiara’s home and her husband Raffa’s home are so well-depicted with different customs, faiths, and ways of living and governing, and both are beautiful in their own right. I love how the kingdoms are so different, yet they are similar in their principles and beliefs. The author did a fantastic job of bringing the setting alive and creating a rich and fascinating world.
I was particularly intrigued by the different beliefs and religious customs in each kingdom. In Jiara’s kingdom of Azzaria, a person cannot move on and be at peace if their murder is not solved. These Earthwalkers, like Scilla, are fated to roam the earth, becoming increasingly violent and out of control until their death is solved. Jiara’s people also pray to the gods, much like Raffa’s people do. Each kingdom has different yet similar beliefs, and both revere nature. Jiara shows a deep connection with nature and the gods, which becomes increasingly significant as the story progresses. I found it interesting that her faith, as well as her unique connection to nature, is one of the few things that brings balance and a sense of peace to this burdened protagonist.
I love Jiara! She is such a fantastic protagonist. Throughout the story, Jiara grows from a sheltered and naïve young woman to a strong and smart leader. Jiara struggles with reading and is so hard on herself for something that is out of her control. People in this world don’t know about dyslexia, and Jiara struggles with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy and believes she isn’t as smart as others who can read easier because of it. The author does a great job of showing dyslexia in such a realistic and relatable way. (Also, if you check out the Author’s Note at the end of the story, Rueckert discusses dyslexia in more detail.)
Jiara goes through so much throughout the story – murder attempts, an arranged marriage, and a dead sister whose ghost becomes increasingly violent are just the beginning of her troubles. She also moves to a new kingdom where she knows no one, can’t speak the language, and doesn’t know the customs. There Jiara must figure out how to be a wife and queen, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. I like how willing Jiara is to adapt. She is so selfless and kind, and her inherent goodness stands in stark contrast to many of the nefarious dealings in her world.
I also love Jiara’s strong relationship with her family, especially with her sister. Even after death, Scilla and Jiara remain connected. Jiara’s relationship with her brothers and parents is also strong. Like Raffa, family is important to Jiara, and there is nothing she won’t do for the people she loves. With her sister’s murderer still unknown and her sister’s spirit becoming more and more violent, Jiara’s life is always at risk, and she puts her life at risk to protect others. This makes for an exciting and suspenseful read!
Some of the other characters are not as deeply developed and complex as Jaira, which feels purposeful. This is a story about Jiara – her quest to find her sister’s killer, her experiences as a new bride in a foreign land, her fears and faith, and her determination to do right by herself and those that are important to her. I love Jiara’s journey and how she becomes more confident, self-possessed, and independent. She and Raffa are so similar in their ideals, and they complement each other well.
The love story between Jiara and her new husband is lovely. He and Jiara struggle initially, as they speak different languages and can’t communicate as well as they’d like. However, their actions and tender moments together reveal the growing depth of their feelings. Raffa is an honorable leader who prefers unity to war. He is young, yet sure of himself and his ideals. He has such respect for Jiara, and it’s clear her truly cares for her (and she for him). Their story is sweet, slow-building, and slow-burning, and I enjoyed how they steadily grew closer and fell in love. They have such great chemistry!
In addition to the interesting characters and immersive world-building, there is quite a bit of intrigue. Jiara’s determination to find her sister’s killer leads her in directions she never expected, and loyalties, love, and kingdoms are tested. I enjoyed the suspense and political intrigue, as well as the constant threat of Scilla’s presence. The combination of so many different dangers made for an exciting read.
A Dragonbird in the Fern is a great book for readers who like standalone YA fantasy with vivid world-building and a well-developed and strong protagonist. Plus, there’s the romance!! Thanks so much to NetGalley, the publisher, and Laura Rueckert for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I can’t wait to read more by this debut author!
- The vivid world-building.
- Jiara – she is a fantastic protagonist!
- The magical elements.
Was it possible to crush a person’s heart without leaving a mark on the body?
Even the gods had limits when murder touched a person’s heart.
This is the book for you if you enjoy YA fantasy with:
- arranged marriage
- political intrigue
- a unique, magical religion/mythology
- strong female protagonist
- sweet romance