Jacinda is a draki, a descendant of dragons, and the first fire-breather born into her pride in over four hundred years. The pride would plan her entire life, right down to mating her to Cassian, son of the alpha, but Jacinda wants nothing more than to fly free. The hunters make this dangerous, and when Jacinda is nearly captured by a group of hunters, she knows there will be consequences to face for breaking the rules. What she doesn’t know, and what her mother desperately wants to keep her from ever finding out, is just how serious those consequences will be. She takes Jacinda and her twin Tamra, who never manifested with a draki form, far away from the pride to a desert town where they’ll be safe.
And where Jacinda’s draki will die.
We start out with an immediate introduction to the draki and a very good idea of the dangers they face: Jacinda and her best friend Azure are sneaking a sunrise flight, when the rules of the pack allow flights only in the night when they can’t be seen by the hunters that threaten them. It’s a beautiful scene, though, with Jacinda’s love of sun on her scales and the wonder of flight written so clearly, so evocatively, that we almost feel like we’re flying ourselves. And then, immediately, there’s the danger: a group of hunters, a riveting chase sequence, and the very real chance of capture. Except- one of the hunters, a boy who actually sees and touches Jacinda within her hiding place, doesn’t turn her over.
Jacinda knows what her life in the pride will be, even if she fights against it. She knows that, as the only firebreather, she’s valuable, and she knows what that means for her pride. And there’s a part of her that remembers what it was like to be friends with Cassian, before she manifested and their lives change. There’s a part of her that could be happy within that life, however much of a cage it feels, because at least she’ll still get to fly, still get to feel the draki armor flash across her skin in ripples of red and gold.
And then the desert. The draki are creatures of earth and sky; they draw strength from rich, arable earth and the gems it yields. Hot, dry places, the lands with no life to them, kill the draki within the human form. Jacinda’s twin sister has no draki, a lack of manifestation as sometimes occurs, and their mother purposefully allowed her draki to die by choosing not to manifest. They go to the desert to take Jacinda from the pride and they fully intend to stay there for one very important reason: to let Jacinda’s draki die.
That struggle truly is the driving force of this novel. The draki can exist in human form- a secret carefully guarded from both the hunters and their enemies, the enkros (about whom we learn very little)- but the way they actually live is with both human and draki intertwined. Each is a different side of the other, but it’s only with both that they’re complete. For Tamra, the thought of this is only ever bitter, as it’s something she will never experience, and their mother was never fond of manifesting, so neither of them truly understand what this does to Jacinda. They don’t understand the genuine physical pain or the emotional trauma that comes of knowing that so essential a part of yourself is literally dying.
And Jacinda isn’t one to simply accept that. She fights it, struggles against the changes with such passion it’s sometimes painful to read, because this is who and what she is, every bit of her. She sneaks away, she finds the places where she can push herself into the manifestation, even when it’s painful and difficult, because she genuinely can’t do anything else. Her struggle is amazing and beautiful- and captivating. We feel her cage, her itchy skin. The thing is, we also feel her love for her family, and her inability to just hop a bus and leave to go back to the pride. She wants her sister to be happy, to have the things and the normal life she could never have had within the pride. Although, I’ll be honest, I kind of wanted to kick Tamra’s butt eight ways to Sunday. There’s almost never a point where it isn’t about her and what she wants and what she hasn’t had, and she blames Jacinda for any setback in her goals to have that normal life. She’s selfish, and she blatantly ignores the fact that Jacinda was never to blame for being a firebreather or for Tamra not manifesting. I pretty much hate Tamra, so the fact that I understand Jacinda’s sometimes exasperated love for her twin is quite an accomplishment in writing.
Will is an interesting character, a hunter who feels a strong connection to Jacinda in either form, and the boy who makes Jacinda’s draki spontaneously manifest. That connection is baffling to Jacinda, and she knows its dangerous for a lot of reasons: manifesting around ordinary humans would be dangerous enough, but in front of a hunter? Especially a hunter with hunt-loving cousins as thoroughly creepy as Will’s. On the other hand, Will seems like a nice guy (if a bit bi-polar in his moods- Edward Cullen effect anyone?), he’s really hot, and most importantly, he’s the one thing that gives her draki the strength to keep surviving against this hot, dry desert. If she stays around him, she may be discovered and killed. If she doesn’t stay around him, her draki will wither and die.
Will’s side of it I don’t entirely get. Given what he know of his talents, the skills that make him such an exceptional hunter, wouldn’t he find that connection suspcious? (I know, I know, I’m hopelessly unromantic)
I also wanted to know more about Cassian. What we know of him is through Jacinda’s eyes, so obviously we’re under quite a bit of a bias. She sees him as stiff and proprietary, but she does remember when they used to be friends, and part of her misses that simpler time. Still, he gives her time, and he seems to genuinely care for her, even if he can be a bit exasperated with her sometimes. He seems to feel his responsibility as the alpha’s son very keenly, a duty that can make young men stiff if they come to it at an early enough age, so there’s so much more I wanted to see of him. I’m assuming we’ll get much more Cassian in the next book, but I almost always get the most curious about the characters we’re supposed to dismiss as obstacles.
There actually isn’t all that much action in this book. It starts with a bang and finishes with one, and there are moments of tight tension that string through like a steady tremor under the skin, but most of that tension comes directly from Jacinda’s struggle to keep her draki alive despite the danger and the almost impossible odds. And I loved it. I loved the pain and the despair and the terrible, terrible hope of that struggle.
And may I just say- I was friends with some cheerleaders in high school, they were very good people, and some of them were really quite smart when they got away from the pod, but there’s a part of me that just jumps with joy every time someone feeds a boatload of sass to a snotty, catty, cheerleading diva.
Until next time~