Rating: 4.25/5 stars
Series: The Dragonmaster Trilogy, Book 1
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
“He’s not my enemy or my politician,” Isadora muttered. “He’s my mentor” (Chapter 10, Isadora).
After reading the Network series, I’m so happy to have gotten a chance to see more into Sanna and Isadora’s lives; t⁵o get to see how their abilities came to be and what made them the way they are. After all, it’s hard to find two more different sisters.
In Flame, Cross has done it again. She’s created a story that was hard to put down. In this novel, she’s given us another world inside of Antebellum that was previously unexplored. While we’ve gotten to see the “modern” world of Antebellum before this, it was fascinating to see the world before Mildred was High Priestess. Even better, we get to explore this world through the eyes of people who are experiencing it for the first time.
If you’ve got a love of all things magical – especially dragons – then you should definitely check this series out. Cross does a fantastic job at creating this magical(ly frightening) world, making it seem as if the magic is almost floating off of the page.
I have to admit, I love the fact that Sanna is obsessed with dragons whereas Isadora is terrified of them. For twins, they really do experience life is very different ways. Isadora denies the tutelage of the very dragon that Sanna hopes will give the time of day, all because she wishes to have magic in her life and not he controlled all of the time. Sanna, on the other hand, feels freedom through swinging through the trees and being with the dragons. She pledges her allegiance to a wild dragon all because she believes it’s the right thing to do for the dragons.
Before I get into how different the lives of these twins really are, I’d love to touch on the other witches that we get to meet in this world. Of course there’s Lucey, the eccentric witch in Anguis who doesn’t really belong. Who would’ve expected her absences and general exhaustion to be the result of trying to help save the Watchers of the Eastern Network? Thankfully she was there when Isadora needed her the most – every time. Such a caring witch that knew she was needed both in Anguis and out and was willing to do whatever it took to help as many beings as she could. While we get introduced to her as the bird witch, she’s by no means the only bird witch in this book. Miss Sophia trumps Lucey in terms of bird affection.
Then we have Baylee, the girl who ran Miss Sophie’s school since Miss Sophie herself was almost never in the state of mind to care of the girls in her charge. While she gave Isadora a hard time upon her arrival, she was the first real friend – outside of her twin, of course. It was Baylee who gave Isadora the hint needed to befriend the other girls in the school. And it was Baylee who convinced Isadora to go out on Samhain to have fun for once.
We have Pearl, the Watcher who can see the future for her cat and is Isadora’s first real taste of the world outside of Anguis. While we don’t spend a lot of time with her, we see Pearl enough to learn how much of a mother hen she really is. If it wasn’t for Pearl, Isadora never would have survived her first couple of days in the real world of Antebellum.
While not a witch, we got to meet the very personable Luteis. It took him a while to open up to Sanna, but even when he wasn’t fully open with her about why he trusted Deasylva Luteis was there whenever Sanna needed him. Well, except for that one time Sanna went fishing and Deasylva saved Sanna from death while Luteis slept…. Every other time Sanna needed him, though, Luteis was there. Of course there were the other dragons like Cara and Talis, Luteis was definitely a driving force in this novel.
Speaking of Deasylva, it’s obvious that she’s going to play a larger role in this world than Sanna and Isadora could have imagined. It’s not every day that you get to meet a goddess and try to help her save her world. I love the idea that the woods are alive, that They have thoughts and emotions, that They want to take care of their world and do everything it takes to ensure its survival. I’m sure that Deasylva will play a large role in the rest of the series and I can’t wait to see how else she helps the witches out. [The follow sentence contains a spoiler for the Network series.] I love now knowing that Deasylva was the entity that was helping Bianca out in The High Priest’s Daughter.
Last but certainly not least, I’d like to talk about Maximillion. It must have been hard for him, trying to save the Watchers in the Easter Network while being distracted by his own future and its endless paths based on Isadora’s constantly changing futures. Sure he’s gruff at times and expects an awful lot from Isadora even if he does consider her to be a heathen. But Isadora’s reading of his inner being was right – Maximillion really can be merciful. Heck, he didn’t need to help Isadora find a way to survive the insane amount of magic that Letum Wood – that Deasylva – bestowed upon her. He didn’t need to convince her that failing is a part of life, that she can only be helpful if she’s willing to constantly learn from her mistakes and better herself and her magic. But he did. Even though it made his own life harder, Maximillion helped Isadora when it counted.
And, of course, I love that everyone is shocked by the way Isadora interacts with him. He’s short with everyone, but Isadora doesn’t put up with it. She stands up for herself and doesn’t fall all over herself trying to please him the way so many other witches do. It’s refreshing that Isadora doesn’t let his position of power influence their interactions, even after she realizes exactly how important he is the the workings of the Central Network.
Getting into the actual meat of this story, I found it quite interesting that Lucey was the gateway connection between the worlds within Antebellum. She was the reason that Maximillion was there to help Isadora when she really needed it, and remained the connection between society, the Watchers, and the Dragonmasters – even if they didn’t realize that’s what they were. She was even the one that got Maximillion to see the reasoning behind giving Isadora access to Letum Wood in order to harness her powers and see what kind of control she could get from them.
If it wasn’t for Lucey and Maximillion, Isadora never would have made it to the pure chaos that is Miss Sophie’s. She never would have met Baylee and she never would have learn how to harness her powers. While at first Isadora could only reach her powers within the boarders of Letum Wood itself, eventually she was able to stretch her abilities and concentration in order to reach as far as the middle of Berry. Without being pushed in this way, Isadora and the other girls from Miss Sophie’s never would have survived Samhain. Sure, Isadora didn’t know how to properly read the paths and might not have survived if Maximillion hadn’t shown up at the right time, but the point is moot since he did.
My favourite part of Isadora’s storyline might very well be her realization that she was never meant to be a Servant, a Dragonmaster. No, she was meant for something different but equally as important. Letum Wood and Deasylva gifted Isadora with the intensive powers of the Watchers only a billion times stronger. No other watcher is able to see for everyone at once, or to connect the paths and fully see the inner person. Only Isadora is that powerful of a Watcher.
If it wasn’t for this insane power level, Isadora never would have made it home in time to save Sanna’s life. To rescue their daid and protect the dragons, even if it was at an incredibly high cost. Talis lost his life and Sanna lost the trust of most of the dragons – the very beings that she’d tried so hard to protect her whole life. The being she was still trying to protect, even if she went about it the wrong way.
Finally, in relation to Isadora’s storyline, I’m thankful that she agreed to help Maximillion and Lucey save the Watchers of the Eastern Network. Of course they’re going to need to be careful to protect Isadora from Cecilia’s wrath, but it’s worth it in the end. Lucey needs to be careful since she’s the defacto face of the entire operation, even if Maximillion is running everything behind the scenes. It’s imperative that Cecelia not figure out any of this stuff (though I have a nagging suspicion that she might by the end of the series).
Getting into Sanna’s side of the story, I really did enjoy the interactions between her, Luteis, and Deasylva. Sanna goes against everything she’s been raised to believe by choosing the wild dragon and then helping him survive when Talis sentences him to starve to death for showing up and refusing to join the brood. Heck, even when she’s not sure of Drago is a real god or not, Sanna promises to help Luteis fight for the woods and bring them back to their former glory. Deasylva might have tricked her into becoming the High Dragonmaster, but it truly is a role that Sanna was born for.
It had to be hard for Sanna, having to stay in the homestead of her people, the place of the massacre. To see the devastation that happened so many years ago and to get an insight into why Talis has acted the way that he has all of these years. While this in no means makes what Talis did the right thing to have done, it still allows insight into a broken psyche. It allows the reader to see how pain and grief was able to convince Talis that he needed to lie to his dragons to protect them. That he needed to convince them that a flying dragon is a dead dragon. I can’t imagine witnessing everyone you’ve ever known and cared for be slaughtered just for doing what comes naturally to them.
Though I will never forgive him for taking Cara’s wings from her and trying to take her hatchlings. You don’t take children away from their caring parents.
One of the many enjoyable things about this read was getting to learn what the Dragonmasters are alongside Sanna. We get to see what it’s like to be merged with a dragon both partially and fully, to see the severity of this decision and the consequences of this action. We get to experience, through Sanna, the joys that come with clinging to a dragon’s back and flying through the sky. The responsibilities that come with being a Dragonmaster, of taking care of Letum Wood and making sure it’s as safe a place as possible for those living within its boarders.
When Sanna learns about a dragon’s second flame, their secondum, we get to learn about it, too. The severity of the decision to use it, the destruction that it might cause. The reality that sharing your blood with a dragon will merge your souls in an almost spiritual way, making each of you part of the other. It’s sometimes the little things about this story that makes me fall in love with Cross’ writing again and again.
Of course, not everything is fun and games when you’re a Dragonmaster. Sanna had to try time and time again to remove Talis from power, to save the dragons from themselves and extinction. Sure she made the faux pas of bringing silver to their fight the way the poachers did, she really did it to help save the rest of the dragons. It’ll take a lot for her to regain their trust after everything that happened – even if she did become the High Dragonmaster. It’s not like the surviving dragons even know what someone with that title can do for them.
Though good things do come from this title. Deasylva allowed Sanna to channel her power through her in order to save Luteis’ life. She even channels Deasylva’s power through her in order to heal Cara to the point where she’s able to survive without her wings, to be the glorious creature that she is and save her hatchlings.
While it had to be hard for the girls to decide to stay apart even after everything that’s already happened and finding out that the other was actually safe, it makes sense that they needed to go their separate ways. Isadora has a responsibility to the Watchers of the Eastern Network while Sanna has a responsibility to the dragons and they strive to find a new place to call their home.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story, how the tale of Sanna and Isadora read to you. If you enjoyed this tale as I did, or if there were things that didn’t register as well to you. I’m always happy to hear your thoughts, so if you’ve got a moment I’d love to hear them.