The Last Namsara

The Last Namsara was first published in 2017 and is Kristen Ciccarelli’s debut novel. It is a high fantasy story which focuses on a princess who must slay an ancient dragon to earn her freedom. The story forms the first part of the Iskari series, and its sequel is expected to be released in Autumn 2018.

Asha is the Iskari – hated and feared by the people of Firgaard due to a terrible accident that half-destroyed the city and left her brutally scarred. An accident that was entirely her fault. As penance, she now hunts the dragons that infest the surrounding lands. Although people may never truly trust her, they can’t deny the fact that she is the most skilled dragon slayer in the land. However, no one knows that she lures the creatures by speaking forbidden stories.

However, Asha’s time as a dragon slayer is coming to an end. In just seven days, she is to wed Jarek – a vicious and controlling military commander. Once Jarek is her husband, Asha knows that she will be forced to obey him or face his rage. Everything seems hopeless until her father – the Dragon King – offers her a chance to break off the engagement. If Asha can kill the oldest of the dragons – Kovu – her father agrees to grant her the freedom that she craves.

However, the hunt will be the most dangerous of her life. Kovu is ancient and powerful, and nothing but the deadliest of stories will lure him. However, as political tensions within the city begin to threaten her hunt, Asha finds her fate entwined with that of one of Jarek’s slaves. Will Asha succeed in her quest, or will she meet the same tragic fate as the heroines in her stories?

Okay, before I begin, let’s get the words of warning out of the way. The Last Namsara does contain some content that readers may find distressing. While it’s by no means the most graphic story that I’ve reviewed, it does contain scenes of violence against women and torture. Dragons also get hurt in this story, of course, which I also appreciate can be upsetting for some. If you are sensitive to any of these things, you might want to give this novel a miss.

The Last Namsara is a stunning debut novel. It is high fantasy at its finest – fast paced and completely immersive. The book is quick to set the scene, establishing Asha as a dragon slayer and describing the city of Firgaard. The setting is very creative, blending elements of Western and Eastern cultures to create a world where stories have power and a king seeks to free his people from the influence of an old god.

There is magic at work in the world of The Last Namsara, but it is understated. There is no true magic system in this story, but instead it focuses on the power of the spoken word. Stories have been corrupted by the vengeful god of Asha’s people; poisoned in a way that slowly kills people who speak them out loud. Yet stories within The Last Namsara have a far greater purpose. Not only do they attract dragons (who love to hear stories and share their own), but they also exist to inspire, empower and bring hope. Asha often draws strength from the tales of the great female warriors who came before her, learning life lessons from their legends and using them weave her own story.

I also loved Ciccarelli’s dragons. While they are traditional in appearance, it is quickly established that they are far more intelligent than they first appear. It’s not just that stories work some magic on them. Dragons are curious creatures and eager to learn. As the story progresses, it quickly becomes apparent that Asha’s people and the dragons have been tied together throughout history. At one time, the people of Firgaard were dragon riders but now they wish to hunt them to extinction. One of the novel’s best twists comes as Asha finally discovers why. While not greatly original in itself, it was still fascinating to read and will certainly appeal to fans of Anne McCaffrey and the How to Train Your Dragon films.

The novel is very easy to read, quickly hooking the reader and drawing them into Asha’s quest to slay Kovu. The plot is kept flowing by its high stakes and strict time frame, as Asha is always painfully aware that she only has a week to complete her herculean task. My only small gripe was that there was a fair bit of repetition in the narrative. The reader is told time and time again about how urgent her quest was, and how Jarek was a cruel git. It’s a personal gripe but I think that actions speak louder than words and would have preferred for there to be a little more showing and a little less telling.

However, the story did contain some fantastic twists that I genuinely did not see coming. While I suspected from the start that there was more to the story of Asha’s accident than we were initially told, the truth behind the events that day did take me by surprise. Ciccarelli is clearly very skilled in writing these plot twists as she managed to hide the clues in plain sight, yet I only really picked up on a lot of them in hindsight. The novel also ended very well. While it left some things open for a sequel, it still neatly wrapped up this stage in Asha’s adventure and so felt complete in its own right.

In terms of character, Asha was simply amazing. Seriously, she is everything that I look for in a protagonist. She is strong, independent and prepared to do anything to earn her freedom. While she is a princess, she is also a warrior and it shows. Yet, she’s not superhuman. There are moments in the novel where Asha still feels uncertain or conflicted, especially with how she is supposed to behave in social situations, and this made her feel all the more real.

Yet, unfortunately, the supporting cast don’t fare so well. This is probably my biggest issue with the story. While I liked Torwin a lot, his relationship with Asha developed a bit too fast. She falls for him in under a week, while he has loved her for years (despite never actually having spoken to her). Insta-love doesn’t really do it for me and, while Torwin could be very sweet, I found the lack of development in their relationship a bit frustrating.

The other characters in the story also felt a bit 2-dimensional. Safira and Dax (Asha’s cousin and brother) appear more frequently as the story progressed but I never felt as though I got to know them. They simply existed to further the plot. Similarly, I found Jarek to be a bit shallow. While he was very easy to hate, he didn’t seem to have much to him beyond being power-hungry and possessive. Still, I was grateful that his abusive behaviour never was never of a sexual nature. While Jarek has no problem throwing his weight around or sentencing slaves to death, at least even he seemed to draw the line somewhere.

Anyhow, I think I’ve said enough. All in all, The Last Namsara was a very strong debut and showed a lot of promise. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a gripping read and I devoured it in just three sittings. I certainly look forward to seeing where Ciccarelli will take Asha’s story next and will certainly be following her closely in the future.

The Last Namsara can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2017 – Part 4 | Arkham Reviews

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