Synopsis (very short and sweet so you don’t feel overly spoiled):
Nihal of Salazar in the Land of Wind is not your ordinary girl. She loves playing with swords and leading an army of other kids who follow her without one murmur. With unusual, pointy ears, purple eyes and dark blue hair, she is clearly not a human either. Still her father, Livon, tries his best to ensure she has a normal, happy childhood, even if it means living with him in a forge, playing with swords and daggers instead of dolls. When a strange boy with red hair called Sennar arrives to Salazar and wins a duel with Nihal using magic tricks the ambitious girl decides to learn magic as well. She wants to avenge herself and she wants to become a great warrior – the greatest of all. That’s how she meets her aunt, Soana, a powerful witch who lives outside the city near a big forest. Sennar is her apprentice and Nihal, although unwilling, reconcile with him and follows his steps. Soon they become great friends.
One day all their life is ruined by an invasion of a horrible army, led by the bloody Tyran, whose regiments include abnormal beasts. During the siege of Salazar they kill Livon. Desperate Nihal flees for her life and joins the Academy of Dragon Riders so she can avenge her loss and save the whole Emerged World from the imminent darkness while Sennar becomes a great magician, helping his Mistress and others with the war effort. Although they fates seem to lead in opposite directions soon they’ll have to decide what they value the most and where their loyalties lie. Nihal will find out more about her real family, Sennar will suffer pangs of unrequited love and both will find first-hand that wars are pretty beastly affairs, definitely bad for your health.
From time to time I really miss high fantasy; imagine my excitement when in my favourite cheap bookstore I spotted a brand new fantasy series (brand new for me of course ;p) penned by an Italian lady, Licia Troisi, featuring a half-elf female heroine and dragons! Woo-hoo, I love dragons and elves in my fantasy! When I read the book flap and found out that Licia Troisi also works at the Italian Space Agency and she graduated in physics with a specialization in astrophysics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata I was over the moon, especially that the books were on sale so I could afford all three parts at once. A fantasy novel penned by a female scientist from Europe – what could go wrong?
Very happy and excited I started the lecture, facing three free days of a long weekend and a bad, autumn weather. However the longer I read the less I smiled.
At first everything was just peachy: I had a gutsy female heroine who was a perfect tomboy – small wonder, being raised by a daddy armourer and blacksmith can do that to a girl. She had such a promising dark streak, loving the swordplay and killing a bit too much, hearing some strange voices in her head and having nightmares. My problems started when I cottoned on everybody at some point lied to Nihal through their teeth about practically everything. I do detest such a plot device because, let’s face it, it’s well-worn and rather childish. ‘No, I can’t tell you who you are, despite those tell-tale pointed ears and navy blue hair, I want you to enjoy your childhood’, ‘no, I can’t tell you who your mum was and how she died, small kids like you don’t need such info’, ‘no, I can’t tell you that you have an aunt who is a powerful witch, people hate witches; if you don’t keep your mouth shut, and I am sure you don’t, it might seriously ruin your reputation in the neighbourhood’…crap, crap, crap. If an author thinks he/she is just making the plot of their novel, fantasy or otherwise, a bit more original and interesting that way he/she is WRONG. It’s been done to death, people. Star Wars? Harry Potter? Cinderella? King Oedipus? All those stories feature a hero or a heroine whose origins are, for a reason or two, obscure; understandably all those characters are trying to find out as much as it is only possible about their family and themselves while being lied to for plethora of reasons (and you know I am pissed off when I use the word ‘plethora’).
Ok, so our Nihal is living her happy childhood full of lies until her city, Salazar, is attacked by an army of the Tyran, a very dark and power-crazy despot who simply has to rule the whole world or die trying. He is like Sauron mixed with Darth Vader, dum, dum dum, dum dudum, dum dudum. Livon is killed while defending his daughter and Nihal starts her journey towards the enlightenment and universal fame by joining the prestigious, all-male and horribly snobbish Academy of Dragon Riders. She has the only choice to become a real warrior and defend innocents from slavery by graduating from that Academy. Why? Search me. Maybe because she loves dragons? She is overly ambitious? Because she has a huge crush on Fen, one of the Dragon Riders and her first real sword master? Maybe she simply has to prove that yes, she can? Oh, yes, there’s one more aspect of it: she is The Chosen One, like Frodo from LOTR or the Last of the Mohicans. Anyway from that point things went steeply south for me both plot-wise and logic-wise.
First of all I really hated the Nihal-Sennar-Fen love triangle. Secondly many infodumps and a very crude narration, sometimes similar more to a synopsis than to a real novel, made me skim the text more and more. Well perhaps it was a bit the fault of the translator but the result was such that I simply skimmed the whole last installment without any pangs of conscience. I did it only to find out whether all my ‘lucky’ guesses were right. And you know what? They were – every single one of them. No, not because I am so intelligent and well-read; as the plot is practically a mixture of Tolkien’s LOTR, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon (and that fact pretty much ruined the dragon aspect for me because I hated Eragon) and Star Wars, anybody familiar with those would guess right. Add to it the fact that the author, at some point, resurrected both of the main characters (a plot device I hate as much as those ugly love triangles) and I admit the whole series left me seriously disgruntled.
How to write a fantasy series? For some writers the formula is simple: take two handfuls of Tolkien, a dash of Star Wars, two spoons of Paolini, mix together, add some local flavour et voila, a series is created. Still the final result can hardly be called original or interesting at all. No, I won’t be reading other fantasy novels penned by Ms. Troisi (as far as I know she’s been pretty prolific and quite popular in Italy so far). I suppose it’s good she has another occupation. In my humble opinion she should focus on astrophysics more.