In Jayaraj’s debut fantasy novel, a young orphan trains to be a dragon slayer and soon questions where his loyalties lie.
The peoples of the world of Adijari are waging war against the dragons. Many different species of dragons have gathered at the Zipacna Mountains, and the elves have constructed the nearby military base of Delthurk. Although it’s elven, other peoples, such as amesha, dev, and qui-lahk, reside at Delthurk as they prepare to fight the dragons into extinction. Twelve-year-old elf Gradni lives at an orphanage, having lost his dragon-slayer father, Yorn, to the reptilian creatures. After Gradni defeats a bully, Delthurk senator Mogurn recruits him to undergo training to become a dragon slayer with the belief that Gradni has what it takes to lead warriors in the final battle against dragons. The young man is in competition, of sorts, with Erdūn, an amesha with whom the Fire Spirit, Ta’ar, has chosen to share his power. Ta’ar hopes that the skilled Erdūn, who’s younger than Gradni, will turn out to be the world’s greatest slayer of dragons. Gradni, meanwhile, trains with Yagura, who’s one of the Disciples of Gaorda, a group of devs that reputedly wiped out the entire species of sesha dragons. The boy hopes to prove his worth on his first mission to the Zipacna Mountains. But he quickly learns why some slayers don’t return from those mountains—and that his loyalties may lie with the wrong side.Over the course of this book, Jayaraj packs the tale with numerous characters, some of whom are only touched upon, such as the qui-lahk people, who are seen relatively rarely. Despite the narrative’s epic scale, it still moves at a rapid pace, which the author achieves, at least in part, with modest descriptions. The diverse peoples, for example, are distinguished primarily by their skin color: The devs are blue-skinned, for example, while the elves are frequently described as “pale.” Similarly, the differences between dragon species seem fairly minute. This does, however, lead to a pronounced, well-incorporated theme of “fear of difference”; the dragons, it seems, are truly united while the four peoples have a common enemy but often differing motivations. The story largely centers on Gradni, but a few subplots effectively expand Jayaraj’s world. One of the more notable storylines involves the amesha nation of Aristahl, where Ta’ar rules. Aristahl has made weapons and armor for other nations to fight the war against the dragons, causing its own resources to dwindle to the point that it’s headed “toward ruin.” The novel consists of two parts, the latter of which hinges on a drastic plot turn that ultimately reveals the predictable, titular secret and leads to hefty battle sequences in the final act. Moments of intrigue complement the action; some people at Delthurk aren’t as honest as they initially appear to be, and readers are made aware of a “new dragon” at the Zipacna Mountains that’s more formidable than the others.
An ambitious fantasy tale that builds an enticing world with simple but effective details.