(2017) Kristen Ciccarelli, Gollancz, £10.99, trdpbk, 418pp, ISBN 973-1-473-2181813-0
The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli is the first in her 'Iskari' trilogy. It is a tale of dragons and dragon slayers, stories and story tellers and maybe, most of all, it is a book that's asks its readers 'who are you?'
This is the story of Asha known as Iskari, after the evil sister of her people's mythology. She hunts dragons to pay for the crimes of her youth, to seek redemption, knowing it will never come. A storyteller, in a country where telling stories brings only death and destruction and has already cost her so much. The dragons are the symbol of the old life, they keep the stories, and bring the cost in their flames.
The themes in this novel include a strong reflection on identity: are you what others think you are or are you what you feel inside; if you make choices based on a lie, are you at fault or is it the one that lied to you? In our political climate of 'fake news' and media bias this book calls us to question what we believe to be true. The ability to control or censor the stories told is a powerful one in both fiction and reality. In The Last Namsara Asha's Father, the Dragon King, holds this power and uses it to enforce his will over Asha, perhaps we should ask who does this in our lives.
Ciccarelli’s writing also questions the role of the individual in society. If your people commit acts that could be thought of as evil, in this case race based slavery, are you as an individual in that society responsible? Again, the parallels to our own culture and its treatment of the poor and marginalised become stark. Asha has to face the fact that she ignores the current evil, while trying to make up for an evil she barely remembers as a child.
Asha as a character, is physically strong, emotionally bruised, but forces herself to continue on regardless. Despite her constant need to follow her life long quest to rid the world of dragons she listens to those around her and changes her views when the evidence piles up that she might be mistaken. She feels outside of her culture and perhaps that ultimately gives her the strength to reject some its values. Perhaps this is a call to arms for us to reject the elements of our own cultures that we cannot wholly accept.
The society attitude to gender is not entirely clear as the Dragon King holds the power from his position rather than his gender, there are references to Dragon Queens of the past. Asha's role is heavily based on her disgrace rather than her gender, but she has no choice about her betrothal and planned marriage, which would be unthinkable in a society that valued women equally.
The Last Namsara is a thoughtful and engaging novel that calls us all to recognise the good and the evil inside of ourselves and our culture. It is an intriguing tale with dragons, storytellers, lies and betrayal, what could be better than that?
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