November 14, 2020

#BookReview: Novice Dragoneer (Dragoneer Academy #1) by E.E. Knight

Synopsis: In the first book in an exciting and charming new coming-of-age fantasy series from the author of the Age of Fire series, an impoverished girl enters into a military order of dragonriders, but her path won't be as easy or as straightforward as she expected.

Fourteen-year-old Ileth grew up in an orphanage, and thanks to her stutter was never thought to be destined for much beyond kitchen work and cleaning. But she's dreamed of serving with the dragons ever since a childhood meeting with a glittering silver dragon and its female dragoneer. For years she waits, and as soon as she is old enough to join, Ileth runs away to become a novice dragoneer at the ancient human-dragon fortress of the Serpentine.

While most of her fellow apprentices are from rich and influential families, Ileth must fight for her place in the world, even if it includes a duel with her boss at the fish-gutting table. She's then sent off to the dragon-dancers after a foolish kiss with a famously named boy and given charge of a sickly old dragon with a mysterious past. But she finds those trials were nothing when she has to take the place of a dead dragoneer and care for his imprisoned dragon in enemy lands. . . .


Rating: ★★
My Review: I was so excited to read this book when it came. But sadly it just wasn't for me.  I know that this is the authors first try at young adult but for me this wasn't it.  It still felt like an adult title but with young adult characters.  The descriptions were very in depth and just a little to much.  It bogged the story down and really just made it a pain to read.  The writing in this one just made the story very not enjoyable.  There was very weird and off the wall dialogue, etc.  And I just had a hard time getting into the story because of it.  

I did enjoy that the main character had a stutter.  My youngest had one growing up and I thought that the author did that very well.  But sadly the writing of this one just made it almost unreadable.  I have a hard time seeing that kids whom are 14+ will not be able to read this one as it stands.  Although those who love prose might enjoy this one. 


Night, wind, and fog above, puddled road and wet meadow beneath. Trotting between them and well coated with elements of both, a youth, still more girl than woman, puffed as she ran. A man's riding cloak, heavy with rain, dragged at her. Adding to the mess was blood from a still-seeping cut on her chin.

A fierceness on her gashed, freckled face under a sloppy sailor's hat suggested she ran as the pursuer, rather than the pursued.

Ileth no longer felt the blood running from the cut, or the pain in the assortment of scrapes and bumps that had accumulated on the run since she realized that those louts at the brewery had sent her up the wrong road, apparently as a joke. If a little blood on her face and clothes was the only price she'd pay to reach her destination in time, she'd gladly let the wound drip.

The fortress she ran toward, a great pile of stone and slate roofs sprawled across a rugged peninsula like a sleepy cat on a branch, comforted her with its lights. The lights gave her hope ever since she first distinguished the impossibly bright beacon of the high lighthouse shining through the drizzle. She could have become lost in this dark, after all, an easy thing in the fogs of the Winderwind Valley girding the Skylake. The riding cloak was wet and heavy and dragged on her like guilt, but if she dropped it she'd never find it again in the dark. She'd slept in it these last two nights and might need it for a third if they denied her entrance. She had no idea of the hour, for the faint bells and chimes of the town beneath the fortress had been ringing in celebration of the Midsummer since sundown. Bonfires burned on the surrounding hillsides.

She splashed through a deep puddle and tripped on a treacherous submerged rock. Her forearm took the worst of the fall this time. She climbed back to her feet; took three deep, restoring breaths; and ran on. The way here was more puddle than road, thanks to the rain that had dogged the last leg of her pauper's journey to the Serpentine gate, the advertised entry point for admittance of would-be dragoneers desiring a berth at the Academy.

The oilcloth sailor's hat had kept her hair dry, but she was wet from nose down, muddy from her boots up, and tired every which way. Ileth allowed herself to imagine a hearthside chair and maybe even hot soup waiting for her within the Serpentine. Fourteen years of life in the Captain's Lodge had taught her over and over again not to waste energy on hope, but sometimes you needed to draw from the well of imagination to keep sore feet in motion.

She willed her body to run on. It wasn't so much of a run as a lurching series of forestalled collapses, but it got her to the approach.

The road rose, widened, and improved all at once. She made out something ahead through the rain, a wall and a decorative dragon-wing arch framed against the faint light from within the Serpentine proper and its jumble of windows, rooftops, and towers on the other side of the thick walls.

The dragon-wing arch marked the gate. On a night such as this the moist air made the decorative wings slick, and they reflected, in a silhouette of faint traces, the lights from the other side of the wall. The dragon wings just touched wingtips at the top and spread in a fanciful design, shielding those on the wall above the gate. The wings angled out, as though to spread and reach into the world beyond the gate.

Gulping for air and wobbly-legged, she realized she'd arrived. The moment she'd been imagining, preparing for, ever since her wellside encounter with the silver dragon and his dragoneer-resolved into fact: no longer a someday, an if-then, but a now.

Her stomach made a sour growl. She shouldn't have imagined that waiting bowl of stew in so much potato-filled, meaty detail.

Breath coming easily now, she had no idea what to do, having spent all her mental energy trying to arrive without much considering the arrival itself. The notice she'd seen, and, when she had a chance, stolen, simply said applicants to be dragoneers were to present themselves on Midsummer's Eve at the Serpentine Academy on the Skylake. What should she do? Announce herself and beg entry? Demand it? Wave the wet, creased, and frayed bit of placard she'd stripped off that notice board?

She stepped under the shelter of those road-spanning wings. She rehearsed her call quietly, under her breath, to warm her tongue. Three more breaths gave her enough wind to shout.

"Hello the-hello the gate!" Blast her stutter. It would betray her just now. It was always worse when she was tired and anxious.

It was northern phrasing. The Serpentine no doubt had formalized military ways to call out to the gate-watch that must exist in such a fortress, but they must expect strangers when they opened to applicants and posted notices.

Only the wind and a racking cough from above answered her. She made out two heads separating from the arch-pillars, wearing narrow fore-and-aft-style caps.

A voice said something that began with stranger, but the wind carried the rest of it away.

One of the figures put a speaking-trumpet to his lips. "The gate's shut for the night. You missed it."

"I wish to apply to the . . . to the Academy as a . . . a novice dragoneer."

"Do you have a letter of introduction or acceptance?"

"I have this," she said, waving the placard.

"Then I'm sorry for you, girl. As I said, you missed it."

"I-I-I'm bleeding," she said. Frustrated tears filled her eyes, but she blinked them back as she wiped blood onto her palm and held it up for the gate-watch to see.

"How old are you, girl?"

"Fourteen years. Fourteen years and one quarter," she said, the answer coming so automatically she hardly stuttered. The night felt cold for a Midsummer's Eve, though she was a week's hard travel south of the Freesand.

"You aren't. You look younger than that."

Ileth had no answer for that. She was small for her age, and for all that puberty savaged her innards, her complexion was still that of a child. "My-My birth's . . . recorded."

"You are alone?"

"Yes. O-Only-Only the . . . the applicant, your notice says." She extracted the folded placard and read from it: "N-N-No guardians,
s-servants, or tutors ad-admitted." She hoped she said that as though she'd left anything like that behind her at the Captain's Lodge.

"Is there anyone who traveled with you to look after you? In town perhaps?" a different voice asked.

"No. Just me."

The figures bent to each other in conference, mirroring the wing-arch's peak above for a moment as their caps touched. A third crossed over to them from the other side of the gate.

The speaking-trumpet passed to the new silhouette. "I have the duty," a reedy voice said, amplified through the trumpet. "The gate doesn't open at night. Unless"-the voice turned hopeful-"unless you have the password."

Ileth shook her head. The reedy voice seemed far, far away as it finished, her body weightless. If her head broke free of her body and floated off, she wouldn't have been much surprised. She had never fainted in her life but once, and she clenched her torso muscles from neck to groin to halt her blood. It occurred to her that such was the dark, they might not be able to see her. "No," she said, stepping forward in case the light wasn't sufficient.

So, so far, and with nothing left to get anywhere else. She was half-starved even now, standing at the locked gate. And she couldn't beg a refuge, not at a fortress.

"Is a dr-dragoneer named . . . named Annis here? She rides a s-silver dragon named Agrath. She told me to ask for her."

"No. Are you a relation, by chance?" the voice called back.

Oh, if only she had been. Maybe the Captain's Lodge would have been different. "No."

They didn't reply to that.

"I am resolved to be a dragoneer," she said, taking a few more steps forward. There was still her age and her sex, unprotected in the night, and the Republic's Dragoneers had their reputation for gallantry. Maybe if they could see the mud, the blood, and her lack of any baggage beyond a blanket-roll, they'd bend the rules. "It is still Midsummer's Eve. Could you ask . . . your superiors to admit me?"

The speaking-trumpet passed yet again.

"Try the side door, girl. There's a path to your right. It begins at the base of the wall just where the road comes under the gate. Watch your step, it traces a cliff and the rocks are wet. Have you ever crossed a cliff?"

Before she could reply, the speaking-trumpet passed again.

"You should just go back to town," the reedy voice said. "Have someone attend that cut. Looks like it needs sewing up."

"Could you ask whoever is in charge of such things to give me the password? Then I could give it to you and you could open the g-gate."

The three heads froze in silence for a moment. She thought she caught the word Midsummer as they talked.

"Go back to town," the reedy voice with the speaking-trumpet said.

"Knock on the side door," the older voice boomed. "Keep knocking until they let you in."

"Don't be stupid," the first man who'd spoken to her called, though which of the other two options presented was stupid it didn't say.

The men above could talk as if she had options, but Ileth had made her choice when she deserted (as it had no doubt been called) the Captain's Lodge. Well, if she was going to fool about with a cliff on a dark, wet night, she would have to prepare.

The flickers of light coming over the wall and through decorative gaps in the gate gave her the ability to take off the too-large riding cloak and wind it about her blanket bag, which she then retied. Thanks to the wet, it made a heavy burden. The bag's rope would hold, but even doubled as she'd been taught, it dug into her shoulder painfully. She checked her knots. She had quit the Captain's Lodge with few happy memories but a certain amount of practical skill, and one was some knowledge of lines, loads, and knot work. A poor knot even around a sack of potatoes could tip the Captain into a rage.

She glanced one more time at the three faceless silhouettes. She grudged them the knowledge of her decision. She considered walking up the road and then circling back just so they'd wonder, but let the notion go. There was always the chance that they were more sympathetic to an unchaperoned girl than their orders allowed. Perhaps one would arrange for a better reception at the side door.

The path was there, just as the older man said, matching another one going in the other direction along the base of the wall. It wasn't much used, just a stretch of muddy gravel. She reached out and touched the fortress wall, its stones beautifully cut, laid, and finished. Nothing in Freesand had anything like these great carved boulders.

The cool, smooth stone settled her, drawing out some of the sting of finally arriving at the Serpentine and being refused entry. The wall-solid, tangible, cool-reassured her. She'd reached her destination. The dragons she'd risked much for and come far to be among lived on the other side of it. The stones made her feel less like a gambler who'd potted her entire purse on a throw only to see the dice come up blanks.

A dissonant chorus of voices who'd advised her against this journey repeated prophesies of failure:

You think those silk-sashes will let you join them?

They'll smell the gutter on you like gamehounds.

No family of a decent name would have a trip-tongued fool like you as a maid-you think they'll give you a dragon to ride?

The wall followed the contours of the peninsula, in this case a slight downslope. She sensed the vastness of the bay ahead and could see the lights of Vyenn, the town on the lakeshore, through the fog as a ragged spiderweb of yellow smears.

The wall of the Serpentine bulged out here and the track she walked narrowed to the point where she would hardly dare to herd mountain goats along it. Below, the Skylake produced no surf; it just seemed a vast emptiness beyond the cliff. Keeping her hand on the wall now for physical comfort rather than emotional, she negotiated the fortress corner. Her hand found a rope tied to a series of ring-bolts set into the stone, and she happily made use of the guideline.

Once around the tower the guideline ended and the path widened again but became harder to walk, as the ground sloped away from the wall sharply. The wall here wasn't quite as high as on the side of the gate but still formidable. The wind blew against this side of the fortress, bringing with it a low susurrance of the big lake lapping against rock below.

The lights of the Serpentine gave her some idea of the peninsula's size. From this outlook she could see the famous lighthouse beacon at a high point of the peninsula, supposedly the brightest light in the Vales. It rested on a dome built on living rock. It was a famous outline; Radiia the printing-house used it as their sigil on their books. Under better conditions, the Serpentine would be starkly beautiful, set high between blue water and white-capped mountains across the lake. She'd once seen a painting of it hung on the wall of a priest's house on one of the Captain's rare social calls.

It was two hundred paces or more before she made out a sort of knob growing off the fortress like a tree root sent down the hill. The path headed down to it. She guessed it to be the location of the door.

Ileth shifted the pinching rope of her blanket-bundle and approached the threshold, telling her sore feet to be patient for just a few more steps.

Whoever designed this fortress didnÕt care for visitors or much want to impress them. The doorstep was unsheltered and unmarked, lit by a single blue gas-flame. She looked in vain for a bell. The walls seemed placed to channel the mountain lake-wind across the threshold; the cold and wet passed untroubled through her layers of wool and linen and went straight on through to her bones.

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