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Dragonfly - Julia Golding Read December 25-26th, 2009

A fun and immersing fantasy novel with plenty of action and a love story, against a massive political background.

Taoshira, Fourth Crown Princess of the Crescent Islands and former goat-herder was plucked from obscurity to become a symbol of her people's government and religion. Although she chafes under the weight of the formality and ritual that rule her every action and control every aspect of her life, she accepts that it is her duty and learns to live with it, taking up her new role with integrity, though without zeal.

But when the fanatical warlord of Holt, Fergox Spearthrower, turns his attention to the last remaining unconquered lands, the Crescent Islands and the land of Gerfal, Taoshira is forced to surrender her last personal freedom and agree to a marriage with Gerfal's Prince Ramil.

Gerfal is culturally a world apart. It is a patriarchal, hereditary country to the Islands matriarchal society, whose rulers are elected. Apart from those essential differences, customs and social mores are wildly different, with the reserved Islanders regarded as emotionless witches, and in turn the people of Gerfal are seen as uncouth and oafish.

But when Taoshira, or Tashi as she was known before becoming Princess, arrives in Gerfal for the completion of the alliance, with its attendant marriage, she is dismayed to be greeted with insults and misunderstanding. Her betrothed too drunk to even be present when she disembarked after a voyage of months. Because of the disastrous introduction of Tashi to their culture, the King allows Tashi and Ramil to go riding alone in the forest, only to have them abducted by agents of Fergox, who has his own less than pleasant plans in store for Tashi.

I thought that the pacing was off in places, where the action lagged and there was no significant character development to compensate. But I really did enjoy the characters, although a few lines of dialogue were too sentimental and seemed out of place.

Tashi is powerful as Crown Princess, respected and obeyed, but she lacks any really useful skills when she is removed from her people and position. Still, she uses her intelligence, spirit and fierce devotion to her faith to see her through her many trials, involving torture and beatings meant to make her recant, deprivations, near drowning, and ill treatment by nearly everyone she meets, enduring slander and cruelty, suspicion and betrayal. So, sure, she is no kick-ass, name-taking heroine. She does learn to fight, a tiny bit, but gets no real chance to use her new skills. She is not even all that confident or self-assured most of the time (though given how much she has been shoved around I cannot blame her for that), but she makes her own choices and stays true to her determined courses. She fights, in what ways she can, for what she holds dear and believes. She is clueless about many things, but very passionate.

Ramil, although a bit free with the drink and very discourteous when first met, is a decent and honourable person, whose courage and kindness, as well as a keen mind and considerable martial skill, lend him the ability to lead when called upon to do so. He also grows to love Tashi and their relationship, with its customary share of blunders, painful separations and joyous reunions was overall well done, if predictable and I would welcome another story on how things turned out for them, even though it is not needed.

The secondary characters, from the Professor to the giant Gordoc, or the sweet Second Crown Princess, or the female assassin Yelena, were all as alive and real as the leads and I loved them. They really add to the story.

So, fun read, kept me interested, enjoyed the characters, was intrigued by the cultures presented (especially the Crescent Islands culture, very Asian and exoctic, restrained) and although Tashi and Ramil are not main characters, appearing only in the background, I look forward to reading Golding's next book set in this world, The Glass Swallow.