Aranya by Marc Secchia

Narrator: Shiromi Arserio

Publisher: Marc Secchia (2015)

Length: 14 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shapeshifter Dragons

Author’s Page

Aranya, princess of the island kingdom of Immadia, is given up as hostage to the invading Sylakian Empire. Chained aboard a Sylakian dragonship (dirigible), she manages to save the commanding officer, a Warhammer, from a windroc. She has a bit of freedom once imprisoned with all the other hostages of subjugated nations but that doesn’t prevent the hostages from forming cliques and taunting one another. Matters get out of hand and Aranya is sentenced to die. She is shackled to a stone and tossed off a high escarpment. That’s when her life changes forever as she shapeshifts into a dragon. This might just be the turning point in the war with Sylakia.

There’s much to be enjoyed in this book. I liked Aranya as a character even though she didn’t wow me. She’s not perfect but she has a good heart. She has her strengths and weaknesses but she also has some good companions to help her along the way. My one quibble would be that she’s a little too good, only having minor flaws. She was rather bland and this made her a little boring.

Meanwhile, her best friend and dragonrider is Zip (short for Zuziana), another princess hostage. They don’t start off as friends but they eventually find merit in each other and bond over shared experiences. Zip has a mouth on her short frame and isn’t afraid to use it, like her archery skills.

The plot was in two pieces for me. In fact, it felt like this was two books pressed into one. First, Aranya must discover who and what she is. That whole bit about being tossed off a cliff that’s mentioned in the book’s description doesn’t happen until several hours into the book. The second half of the book is Aranya and Zip running some guerrilla tactics on the Sylakian air navy and eventually having a really big battle to determine the fate of the island kingdoms.

Let’s talk a little about the male characters. Mostly, they are either there for comfort (like Aranya’s dad) or are of a romantic interest (like Yolathian and the formerly nameless monk). Occasionally they get to do stuff and have a few meaningful lines. That said, most of their plot-related actions happen off the page and the reader only hears about it after the fact. It is both refreshing and odd to have a book that wouldn’t pass a reverse-Bechdel test.

Nak and Odya, an older couple who have experience with both natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters, get to play teachers and stand-in grandparents to Aranya. Sometimes this was very sweet and sometimes Nak was outright creepy with all his lecherous comments to and about Aranya and later Zip. Odya and Nak know something about Aranya’s parentage but are reluctant to give up all their secrets. Aranya’s mom is something of a mystery throughout the book and that’s one of the things I liked.

There’s also warrior pygmies on some of the isles and Zip and Aranya have to trade with them. Then there’s the dragonets, which are small dragons with limited intelligence and speech. This last bit really reminded me of some of Anne McCaffrey’s books. As a biologist, I got a kick out of the info about dragon anatomy – 3 hearts, 7 stomachs, etc. After so many mentions about dragon digestion I did start to wonder about dragon poo. For a good chunk of the book, Aryana in dragon form is being tracked by the Sylakians and spoor is a useful find when tracking anything. Alas, no dragon dung.

As the story goes on, Aryana’s powers grow. At first, this seemed natural and I was interested. Later on though, she has so many powers that she’s getting close to be invincible and I found this a bit boring. I like my heroes to have limited abilities and therefore, they sometimes have to rely either on others or on their wits to get them out of a jam.

All told, it’s a good solid start to an epic dragon fantasy series. The two main characters are pretty interesting and the world they inhabit has a lot left to explore.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobook Worm.

The Narration: Shiromi Arserio makes a really good Aranya, both princess and dragon. I enjoyed the quick banter between Aranya and Zip throughout the book. For the most part, she usually had distinct character voices but sometimes there were a few conversations where the distinctions became muddled. The male character voices really needed some masculinity. She was great at imbuing characters with the correct emotions. 

What I Liked: A world made up of islands; natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters; Zip and Aranya make a great team; pygmies; little dragons; dirigibles; Odya playing grandmother.

What I Disliked: Could use some gender balancing; Nak is creepy; Aranya’s power grow so numerous and powerful during the book that she becoems a little boring; male characters don’t sound particularly masculine.

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