Here be dragons! Lovers of Game of Thrones, Eragon, and philosophy are bound to adore Rosaria Munda’s debut novel, Fireborne, a captivating, dragon-filled YA fantasy that is heavily inspired by Plato’s The Republic.
It’s about time we had a proper dragon fantasy gracing the shelves! This is the best book I have read this year by far (and I am definitely experiencing a book hangover from this beauty right now). At first, I was prepared for a cliché romp through a stereotypical fantasy world, but boy how I was wrong. Fireborne almost reads as a dystopian fantasy, a world that has been turned upside down and forced into a new order. Yet, at the same time, It felt like I was reading Top Gun but with dragons.
The story centers around two young dragon riders who survived a bloody revolution. Antigone, “Annie,” is an orphan and a former serf. Her family was burned to death by dragonfire caused by their ruling dragonlord. Lee is a dragonlord’s son, who watched his family be butchered by revolutionaries. Because of this revolution, both Annie and Lee grew up in an orphanage together. For over seven years and despite their different backgrounds, they have become close friends and have trained to be the best dragonriders in Callipolis’ fleet. However, everything changes when survivors of the old government, the dragonlords, return with a dragon fleet of their own, ready to claim everything they have lost.
With war being inevitable, Lee’s relationship with Annie is thrown into the fire, as he has to make a choice between betraying his old family or the new one he has found in Annie and their peers. And Annie must make a choice between protecting Lee’s identity, or being the hero her city needs.
The world of Callipolis is fascinating, no doubt because its government is based off of Plato’s Republic. It is an island in the middle of the sea. Its whole system is based on something called the “metals test.” Every individual takes a test, and their score determines what “metal” (aka class) they will be for the rest of their lives. For example, those who test as iron are unskilled laborers, like textile and mine workers. Those who test gold are the philosophers, the poets, the scholarly. In Callipolis, your quality of life is dependent on the metal in your wristband. Munda also created an entire epic poem called The Aurelian Cycle, which is woven throughout the entire story. She truly has taken her time with the lore of this world, and it shows.
Besides the world, I loved the characters. Both Annie and Lee felt alive and realistic. They had their own demons, but they also shared a deep bond together that was innocent and pure. It was awesome to see them truly be friends, rather than instant lovers. In fact, both Annie and Lee spend most of their time having relationships with other people. I also can’t pick who I like more. Lee is confident, yet desperately wants to be safe and loved. Annie is shy, yet fiercely determined. They are not perfect people. They make bad decisions. They also deal with the consequences of their decisions. Every action they do bears some weight with the story, which allows you to become fully invested in their plight to be the best dragonrider, protect their city, and find where they belong. In addition, Annie and Lee’s peers are all fantastic and fleshed-out characters. An entire book could easily be dedicated to any one of the side characters. Every single one felt like they mattered and added to the scene. I particularly loved Duck and Crissa.
Overall, Fireborne is everything I have ever wanted in a dragon fantasy. The dragons are important and not gimmicky. The dragon riding sounds like the most terrifying and amazing experience. The world has a fascinating government system and is on an island (so it has a gorgeous and intoxicating setting). Everything in this story feels important. I didn’t find myself skimming over any details. I cannot wait to read the second installment of this series, which is called The Aurelian Cycle. If you enjoy The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim or How to Train Your Dragon, you will probably love this story too.