Fantasy Review: ‘Moth and Spark’ by Anne Leonard

Moth and SparkWith a possible marriage proving important in Moth and Spark, debut novel of Anne Leonard, I decided to pigeon hold it into an old wedding superstition.   Something old; a love story at the heart of war.  Something new (at least to me); dragons that are not fully tied to humans nor completely independent, but rather a bit of both.  Something borrowed; well, there is nothing completely original about rebellions, love stories or even dragon riders, is there?  And something blue.  Um, I think lead female Tam wore a blue dress to the ball, didn’t she?  If not go with the cover, it has a lot of blue on it

Immensely readable, hard to put down, and short in length – this is the type of story that I used to read in a single sitting when I actually had time to do so.  Following only two major players; young prince Corin and his soon to be love interest Tam, the book fills the pages with a lot of happenings without any rush or bloat.  We are given not boring build up; Corin is stopped by a dragon rider in the first few pages and it is soon known he shall lead them in a rebellion against the Emperor who controls them.  From there we join him on a quest of war, rebellion, and love.  Oh, and we meet a few dragons along the way.

By following only two characters a lot happens in this world but we only get to know what Tam and Corin know.  This is not a book that forces you to memorize a map, know troop movements, or follow anything outside of these two characters world.  This is a good thing; it allows the aforementioned short length without forcing a rushed ending and doesn’t make the world feel small by forcing the main cast to take care of everything.  Tam and Corin must take care of their own important task while the world moves around them.

What I really appreciated about this book was the way it flirted with familiar tropes.  It never actually left them behind, nor tried to subvert them entirely, but instead danced with them; using them when they were not broken and stepping outside of them when needed.  I appreciated seeing a royal court that wasn’t pure back stabbing politics and cruel pranks on the new girl.  Tam ran afoul of a few to be sure, but never did the court fall into ‘these people are evil’ and ‘these are the good people who will befriend our protagonist.’  Tam fits the action girl trope herself, always the smartest in the room and ready to speak her mind.  But she stays believable throughout; in a world based around a patriarchy she does a lot and has no lack of agency; but does nothing that makes her seem like the exception to the gender-status rules.   Tam is quick to take charge but isn’t suddenly swinging a sword around and fighting off trained soldiers.  And the dragons themselves, though hard to talk about without spoilers, are manipulative without actually being unlikable.

There is a love story here which I am of two minds about.  On one hand it is very rushed and requires a bit of a personality change in the prince that I am not sure about.  But on the other hand I have no hard time buying that two people so young could have an infatuation as strong as they felt that would lead to every action they took.  And as the entire story takes place in a fairly short time, without any annoying ‘happily ever after’ prologue, I am not forced to buy the fact that this was ‘one true love at first sight.’  So I am going to call this a success.

I must comment on how strongly this book managed to wrap up what was looking like too many threads into a conclusion that answered a lot of questions in a hurry without ever feeling rushed.  Little plot points I was finding implausible suddenly made since; there was tension without throwing in something unexpected or implausible, and we got real resolution to the major story arc while letting us know that the author is well aware that not everything was solved but that was for other players in the game to deal with.

I have only a few quibbles.  While I can’t call it a plot hole because the explanation was in there I am still confused on how the dragons became beholden in the first place (though how they were kept under control after was perfectly clear).  And maybe it was intentional but there were a lot of real world allusions that raised an eyebrow; they shared a very similar set of fairy tales as we do for instance.

I rare book that I felt could be a bit longer, but solid throughout.  Perfect for a lazy afternoon if you are a person who still finds time for those.  It is somewhat rewarding to read a book that I know nothing about, and always cool to see a debut that shows so much potential.

4 Stars

Review copy provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

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