THE LAST NAMSARA was ... okay. I liked it, but I'm not in love with it, which I guess puts this book in the reader equivalent of the "friend zone." It's better than a lot of the YA fantasy that's been coming out lately, but falls short of reaching that level that would put it on my favorites list or make me truly invested in reading the sequel. Which is a shame, because it contains a lot of things I love, like court intrigue, dragons, forbidden love, and curses. It could have been amazing but the execution and world-building failed it.
Asha is the Iskari, or the death-bringer. A cursed god for a cursed girl, after she brought fire to her kingdom by telling the forbidden stories that lure the dragons who cause wanton destruction. The same stories that killed her mother with their power. Everyone in her kingdom despises her, except her father, who sees her value as a dragon-slayer despite the scars that mar her face and body - oh, and her super creepy fiance, Jarek, who sees her as an interesting conquest that might be fun to overpower.
Knowing her reluctance to marry Jarek, Asha's father gives her an ultimatum. If she can kill the most powerful dragon of all - the same dragon that scarred her face and body - before the date of her wedding ceremony, the engagement is off and she will be free. Asha agrees and sets out on her quest, only to experience a vision from one of the older gods instead, who has different plans for her. And this time, when she meets the dragons, she's in for a surprise.
So there were many things this book did right. Asha is a powerful heroine, scarred and not particularly beautiful - it's her personality and her strength that make her attractive. That's a refreshing change from heroines like those from - shudder - THRONE OF GLASS, who double as super-models when they're not incompetently trying to defend the kingdom. Ciccarelli also just has her characters swear instead of making up cutesy fake swear-words for her characters, which I'm sure the pearl-clutching parents of YA readers love but actual YA readers would much rather just see the swear-words. Otherwise it feels like your parent grabbed her book from you and censored out all the good stuff (take note, fuddy-duddy YA authors). The political intrigue was also really well done. There were a couple twists in here that I didn't see coming, and as a jaded reader, I appreciated that.
I think what dropped this book down a couple stars for me was 1) the characters didn't really feel fully fleshed-out to me. I kept comparing this book to THE WINNER'S CURSE, which has a similar plot and similar forbidden romance between a noble and a slave, but in my opinion did it a lot better with more character development, higher stakes, and more emotion. 2) the world-building was not very developed and it kind of felt like you could have picked up this world and plopped it down in virtually any other fantasy novel, and still had it make sense. The best fantasy novels have worlds so strong that they're practically characters in and of themselves. This book didn't have that.
All in all, THE LAST NAMSARA was a pleasant surprise. My expectations are pretty low when it comes to YA these days, but NAMSARA gets more things right than it does wrong and that has to count for something. Plus, dragons. I'm a sucker for dragons. (And if you're also a sucker for dragons and dragon-riding, I highly recommend you read Mercedes Lackey's JOUST, if you haven't, already.) This wasn't a bad debut, and even if I might not continue the series, I anticipate her other works.
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars