Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Dragonfly

Dragonfly by Julia Golding
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's review
Dec 08, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: ya, fantasy, 2008
Recommended to Shannon (Giraffe Days) by: Kiwiria
Recommended for: fans of The Princess Bride
Read in December, 2008

This wonderful tale of adventure, self-discovery and love is marketed to the 9-12 year-old age group (like Anne of Green Gables - always a surprise, since when I finally got around to reading it at 14 I really struggled with it), but is highly enjoyable for any age group.

Sixteen year old Taoshira, Fourth Crown Princess of the Crescent Islands, was elected at 12, plucked from her goat herd on Kai Island and has been immersed in formality, ritual and rigmarole ever since. The other three Crown Princesses are all much older and only one, the Second Crown Princess, Safilen, shows any kind of emotion. With their fair hair, elaborate robes, veils and white face paint, the four princesses perform constant rituals to the Mother Goddess. Their land is prosperous and protected by a formidable navy; they alone hold the secret to cannon shot and rifle. Taoshira, or "Tashi" as she used to be known, submits to the formalities and rituals but a part of her is never entirely comfortable with them.

On the mainland, the Spearthrower is expanding his empire from Holt and Kandar to Brigard and now has his eyes on Gerfal to the north. In order to cement an alliance between the Crescent Islands and Gerfal, a marriage is arranged between the Fourth Crown Princess and King Lagan of Gerfal's son, Ramil. The Gerfalans are ignorant of Blue Crescent practice and procedure and on arriving at their capital, Tashi is insulted constantly by their ill-mannered rudeness - and eighteen-year-old Ramil himself, who doesn't want to marry Tashi and makes no effort to hide his derision.

A last-ditch attempt to mend the rift between the two royals results in them being kidnapped by circus performers working for the Spearthrower, who has great plans for both Ramil and Tashi. And so the real adventure begins.

One of the things I loved about this story was the Blue Crescent culture - with governance that reminded me somewhat of Queen Amidala of Star Wars fame (the elected royal, the formal stiffness of posture, the white face paint and elaborate clothing), the people are also matriarchal and sophisticated. While they have their fair share of prejudice and the formalities make things excruciating, they have that hint of Asian perfection and exotic allure that always make a fantasy story exciting. It's nice to have this culture juxtaposed against the more cliched "medieval" culture of the Holtish Empire and Gerfal: patriarchal, superstitious, warmongering, poorly educated. Niether type of culture is held up as a model; all have their faults as well as their benefits.

Tashi is an interesting heroine: while protected by her role, she is regal and composed and older than her years. Stripped of it by her kidnappers, she's again just a girl with no real skills and few resources. She's strong of will but passive by upbringing: an interesting mix - and she does have her wits, which are a resource that serves her well. Despite what the cover implies, she does not learn any fighting skills except for some self-defence that she never gets a chance to use. She does learn to ride a horse, however.

Ramil likewise is a well-developed and well-drawn character. Even at his most insolent, in the beginning, he's still endearing and likeable, probably because his predicament is understandable and sympathetic. And he really grows and matures and becomes more open to other cultures.

I'd say the story is inspired by The Princess Bride - you have a princess kidnapped by a dwarf and a giant, rescued by a prince, and the giant becomes her good friend and protector. There are sword fights and a bad man bent on marrying the princess. It's a rollicking good tale from start to finish, very well-written, and my one complaint is the outcome for the Empire - though, given the setting and characters, they probably couldn't even conceive of a different way of governing. Shame though.
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