“She’s slow. She can barely understand a word. We can speak freely.”
It was all I could do to keep the mild expression on my face and my hands clutching at my twisting insides. There was no longer a need to wonder about” …. “Capability for betrayal, and a cold pit yawned within me. But I had to find out what was going on.
*Thank you Flux Publishing and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
A Dragonbird in the Fern follows Princess Jiara as she takes the place in her recently deceased sister’s arranged marriage. The establishment of an alliance with the northern kingdom is vital in avoiding war with a neighbouring kingdom. Jiara’s family love her dearly and can’t bare the thought of Jiara moving so far away, especially while still morning the loss of the oldest princess. But as Princess Scilla’s vengeful ghost loses her sanity with each day her murder is left unsolved, her madness turns towards her loved ones, encouraging Jiara’s parents to place hope that Jiara will be safe from Scilla’s wrath far away in her husband’s kingdom.
I went into A Dragonbird in the Fern with the expectation of a mystery, shrouded in political espionage and a dabbling of the paranormal. But what I discovered was pleasantly deeper, more emotional and raised awareness for the learning disorder, dyslexia, without ever naming it yet was so well executed, it didn’t need to be.
Princess Jiara was written to be a strong, brave young woman with an unrivalled thirst to overcome her short fallings in order to best provide for her people as a new queen in a foreign country. With loving parent, a kind older brother and an adorable little brother whom everyone dotes on, one might expect Jiara to be a little naive to the world outside of her life in the royal palace. Yet, Jiara’s mother serves as an excellent role model as both a strong and fair monarch as well as an excellent mother. This is honestly refreshing as so many times the protagonist family has been cast as toxic or neglectful in order to toughen up the hero’s hide. This is further demonstrated as the king and queen don’t worry one bit that their royal line will end with their oldest son and will continue on with whichever child Prince Llandro and his husband will adopt in the future.
The vengeful ghost of Princess Scilla was both a terrifying and interesting touch. The longer a murdered victim’s family takes to avenge or uncover the truth, the further into insanity the ghost sinks until all the rage and madness is turned onto their own loved ones, turning it into a race against time to unmask the killer.
Leaving behind the ocean and her Azzaria kingdom of colourful silks, balmy nights and magnificent canals, Princess Jiara leaves with her new husband Raffar for the colder climate of the Farnskager kingdom far North. A whole new world with a different set of rules, a diverse religion, and a language already quite difficult without Jiara’s dyslexia hampering her progress.
The communication barrier between Raffar and Jiara meant the two had to get to know one another using other means and this part of the book was beautifully written. The romance between these two as they discovered a friendship that evolved over time was both realistic and a shining example of respect and understanding between two Royals of very different worlds.
Lastly, the danger of both Scilla’s unrestful spirit and the mysterious killer behind her murder brought an intriguing air of mystery fraught with danger when Jiara cannot be sure of who she can trust in a kingdom so different from her own.
Laura Rueckert’s debut novel is one not to be missed and I highly recommend taking the time to read the Author’s Note at the end where Rueckert explains the inspiration behind writing a dyslexic protagonist moving to a country with an unfamiliar language, as well as some links you can follow to learn about dyslexia. A Dragonbird in the Fern is a standalone novel.