The Last Namsara, by Kristen Ciccarelli

In The Last Namsara, the first title in an epic debut YA high-fantasy series, Kristen Ciccarelli introduces readers to Firgaard, a kingdom now dedicated to shutting down the old stories its people once shared with the dragons. It’s believed that these stories so weaken those who tell them that death is inevitable. But the protagonist, Asha, doesn’t fear the power these stories hold, and she can’t help but speak them aloud.

The story begins with Asha hunting a dragon. She slays the creatures in penance for a catastrophic mistake she made as a child—which lead to death and destruction in Firgaard. Many people still hate her, but with the help of her father, the King of Firgaard, she’s been making up for the ruin she caused. Her final act will be marrying the beloved commandant, Jarek. But Jarek is a man that Asha seems to fear, and though she is intent upon gaining the trust and respect of her people, she desperately wants to stop the marriage.

Asha is offered a way out in the proposition of bringing to the King the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, but this journey and its trials will reveal unexpected truths about the people of Firgaard’s most fundamental beliefs and ancient stories. Throw in a forbidden romance, magic, and a dragon that reminds you more of a dog than a vicious monster, and you’ve got yourself a fantasy book worth its weight in gold.

Easily unlikeable, Asha is stubborn, ignorant, and far too desperate for acceptance. She finds no problem with the practice of slavery her ancestors had long-ago instituted—a system of hard labor and abuse. Hers is a viewpoint many readers will find revolting. However, The Last Namsara is a story of redemption, and through tests and hard-fought moral changes, Asha becomes a character that readers can’t help but admire.

Ciccarelli’s world-building is masterful. Using Firgaard’s ancient stories, she methodically reveals the beliefs, structure, and inner-workings of the society through short tales that act as chapter breaks. It’s a captivating tactic, and one that would speak to any reader who appreciates the power that old stories hold.

Though The Last Namsara is Ciccarelli’s debut novel, she writes with a skill that belies that fact. She’s created a story with raw character development, beautiful world building, and expert foreshadowing—and enough action and shocking reveals to leave the reader on the edge of their seat. It’s a book about growth, connection, and the power of old stories—allow them, in the best way possible, to eat away at your heart.

Zoe Nepolello

Zoe Nepolello is a senior at DePaul University pursuing a degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She currently holds the position of Flash Fiction Section Editor for DePaul’s award-winning literary and art magazine, Crook & Folly. When not focused on her editorial and scholarly duties, she’s devouring any YA novel she can get her hands on or writing her own. She dreams of her future home library, buying every edition of her favorite novels and series, and the dragon she’s determined to one day own.