Monday, July 8, 2019

Shelf Awareness--Shatter the Sky

YA Review: Shatter the Sky

Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells (Simon & Schuster, 304p., ages 13-up, 9781534437906, July 30, 2019)

Back before the Empire, when the Verran people settled Ilvera, they bonded with native dragons, "creating a society neither human nor dragon, but somewhere in-between." Then the emperor, the Flame of the West, invaded, stealing all of the dragons, "tearing out the mountain's beating heart" and sweeping a reluctant Ilvera into the Empire. Generations later, Maren loves her life on the "dragon mountain" in Ilvera, but her girlfriend, Kaia, is eager for the pair to travel "downmountain" and explore. Kaia dreams that they'll meet the "the Flame of the West himself" and be given dragons. Maren knows that "the tyrant" will "never grant a dragon to a girl from Ilvera," but Kaia is determined, so Maren will go, "even if it cost[s her] the mountain."

But when the emperor's Aurati seers arrive on their customary pilgrimage, "doling out prophecies and counting up the emperor's subjects," they abruptly steal Kaia away. Knowing that "no one taken ha[s] ever returned," Maren comes up with "an impossible idea": she'll find a dragon that has not yet formed its unbreakable bond with anyone else, and storm the Aurati stronghold to get Kaia back. Dragon kits are housed in the emperor's fortress, but Verrans aren't welcome. Maren disguises herself in Zefedi clothing and manipulates her way into a job as food taster, then quickly talks her way up to an apprenticeship with the Aromatory, "the only person who knows the tools and procedures for training the dragons."

Maren watches for an opportunity to steal one of the dragons, hoarding small quantities of oils that are essential for creating a lasting bond. One day she hears "a cacophony of notes... at once unfocused and bell-like" and she realizes it's the sound of dragons singing. She also begins to understand that the vivid, confusing visions she's been having may be "dragon dreams." When she envisions Kaia--thinner, paler and "in danger"--Maren knows it's time to act. She fails miserably. Forced to escape, she finds unexpected help from Sev, a handsome young Zefedi who is also interested in dragons, and the two find themselves on the run together with a stolen dragon egg about to hatch.

Rebecca Kim Wells has crafted a top-notch dragon story. Her fantasy world-building is excellent, the plot anchored by a strong young woman who feels both nuanced and real. Maren struggles with difficult questions in ways readers will understand: Why, if she's in love with Kaia, does she dream of Sev? Is it enough to just save Kaia, or is it time to take down the emperor as well? If so, who will be installed in his place? Is there really a shadow prince conspiring to rule? The story builds momentum until its breathtaking finish, concluding the episode while leaving larger issues unresolved and ready to be picked up in the second installment of this promised duology. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: In this YA fantasy debut, Mara infiltrates the emperor's fortress to bond with a dragon in order to rescue her kidnapped girlfriend.

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