by Julia Golding
Rating: 5 stars, PG-13
Summary: Princess Taoshira, or Tashi, and Prince Ramil, or Ram, are complete opposites. Taoshira, the Fourth Princess of the Blue Crescent Islands lives her life according to rules, rituals, and religions. She has been taught to guard her emotions and never let her own wants and needs overpower the good of her country. Ramil, the crown prince of Gerfal is a wild spirit who lives life to the fullest. These two are brought together when the powers-that-be in their respective countries decide that a marital union between the two lands is in order. Neither are pleased, but after much complaining, they decide to at least try to make the best of it. It all goes downhill from there: kidnapping, war, heresy, slavery, the list goes on and on. Along the way, through all of these trials, the two begin to see more in each other than just cultural differences. And by that, I mean they start to fall in love. The book has a happy ending, but also a lot of suspense to keep the reader wondering how it could be a good ending.
Opinions: One of the first things I noticed about Dragonfly was that it avoided a classic fantasy pitfall: basing invented cultures on real ones. I felt like all the different nations in this book had elements pulled from all sorts of real-life cultures, from European, to Asian, to African, but no one culture was more prominently used than another. Likewise, no culture in the book was overly influenced by one real-world country. Speaking from experience, this is harder than it seems, but Julia Golding did an excellent job. She also did an excellent job at crafting both a detailed religion and a very religious culture that, again, had no resemblance to current religions and religion-based cultures. I did get confused on the location of the different countries in relation to where the characters were a couple of times, but there is a map in the front of the book.
The romance in Dragonfly was really subtle and slow to come on, considering it was mentioned in the book jacket, but it did seem really natural. Tashi and Ram squabbled through much of the book, and there was no sudden shift from animosity to love; it was all pretty gradual.
I felt like the book was a really subtle social commentary, especially in the realm of religious tolerance. Tashi grew up in an extremely religious culture (though I still hesitate to call it a theocracy, at least by modern terms), and her beliefs become a pretty significant sub-plot. The book also says quite a bit about giving people chances, as well as what can come of misunderstanding between different cultures.
I gave the book 5 stars because I absolutely loved it! I didn't inhale it like I do a lot of books that I really enjoy, but I think I enjoyed it all the more for not reading it hours on end. I predict that this will be the Graceling of this summer (I read Graceling early last summer, and it ended up being my top book for the year), if not this year. I actually noticed quite a few similarities between the two books, but nothing negative and, in retrospect, they are probably simply a result of genre conventions. I gave the book a PG-13 rating for violence, as the end of the book was really quite violent (though not unnecessarily so), and for very mild sexuality, almost all of which was passing comments and conversation rather than actions. The book is rather long, and it took awhile for the book to grow on me, but I did read the last hundred pages in one sitting.
A warning to those who read fantasy for the magic: this is fantasy only by virtue of taking place in an entirely made-up world. In that way, it's similar to General Winston's Daughter, which I also reviewed. Still, it's a very enjoyable world with a well-developed world and characters, and enough plot variety to capture both the action and the romance fans.