”Book, you have the right to a speedy trial” review!
(Okay, maybe not so speedy, there's just so much great stuff to talk about in this book!)
- “Book, do you swear to tell an awesome story, the whole awesome story, and nothing but an awesome story?”
You know you’re in for a fun ride when the action literally begins on page 1! Once a member of a rich family (known as “Goldstones” in this world), Moroda finds herself thrown in prison simply for speaking her mind. Before she even has time to process what happened, her cell becomes a very dangerous place for her to be in when she realizes she’s sharing it with a notorious sky pirate and a ruthless killer. But it soon becomes apparent that nowhere in the world of Linaria is safe anymore after a dragon suddenly goes on a violent rampage, leaving a city in ruins and its people in devastation. In trying to discover why the once peaceful dragons have now turned against a world that has always revered them, Moroda finds herself thrust into a massive conspiracy and targeted by a growing army of aggressors. Now, to prevent an impeding war, Moroda and her band of allies must delve into the sins of their world’s past in order to ensure that Linaria has a future.
While the main storyline itself is an intriguing one, there is so much more going on! I don’t want to get into details, as it’s better to experience these plot developments firsthand, but there are many subplots and backstories woven into the main one. Every major character has their own agenda, some of which are occasionally at odds with the very people they travel with. And because there are so many plot threads being explored, this made for a rich reading experience. Some moments are sweet, others are shocking. I laughed many times and yes, even choked back tears at other ones. This novel is heartwarming at some points and heartbreaking at others. Exciting, entertaining, devastating, and inspiring, this novel is many things. In fact, the only thing the book never was is boring!
- “Please bring in your character witnesses!”
As captivating as Moroda’s adventure is, the people who accompany her in her journey are even more fascinating. They all have their own distinct voices and add so much personality to the story. There’s Eryn, Moroda’s feisty younger sister who insists “she should have been the older one”, and as formidable as she is at times, it’s hard to disagree with her. There’s stoic Palom and impulsive Anahrik, a pair of blacksmiths and weapons traders whose friendship is one of the bright points of the story. Sapora, an outright chilling assassin who often seems like he poses a far greater threat to the others than the enemies who are actually hunting them. Morgen, an Imperial guard who has a sense of nobility which leaves him horrified to be working with this group of outlaws. And Kohl, a battle-scarred warrior with quite possibly the coolest profession ever… that’s right, he’s an accountant, just like me! Okay, just kidding, he's not really an accountant (as awesome as that would be), he’s actually a dragon hunter… but one day I’ll get my wish for an epic fantasy novel starring a warrior accountant!
Normally with such an eclectic group of supporting players, I’d say it was hard to pick a favorite, but that wasn’t the case this time. As interesting as all the characters mentioned above are, they couldn’t hold a candle (and wouldn’t dare hold a sword) to sassy sky-pirate Amarah. Armed with a sharp scythe and an even sharper tongue, Amarah not only steals as much treasure as she can store on her airship Khanna, she also stole my heart! Her wise cracks often brought some comedic relief as the dramatic events unfolded. I loved how strong and outspoken she was, but also that she did have a more compassionate side, which is seen when she and Moroda begin to form mutual respect for each other. I was very happy to see that a future book in the World of Linaria series is set to star Amarah, and I loved this character so much, even though her book isn’t due to come out for at least a few months, I already want to give it five stars!
- “Will the defendant please rise?”
With such a strong supporting cast, there’s always a danger that they could overshadow the star character. Fortunately, Moroda is more than capable of rising to the task of leading this story. Sometimes revealing the backstory of a fantasy world can feel forced, as it can appear that the characters are discussing things they should already be aware of. However, in this tale, seeing the world through the eyes of Moroda make for an excellent narrative device. As a Goldstone (Oh, how I love that term being used for the wealthy…how is it I’ve never seen any fantasy novel use that term before?!), Moroda had led a rather sheltered life, so it made perfect sense that she needed to learn more about her world’s history and cultures. I also appreciated how real she felt at times. While Moroda starts out with a strong spirit, she doesn’t instantly know how to wield a sword or a magical spell. In addition to learning about her world, she has to learn about herself as she progresses throughout her journey. I loved the sequences where Moroda had to train in order to learn various arts. The fact that she sometimes stumbles and has to push herself harder made her that much more admirable. True, there were characters here I sometimes found more entertaining (*cough* AMARAH *cough*), but Moroda remained the one I still cared about the most. Amiable, benevolent, and formidable, Moroda is an excellent example of someone who isn’t a born hero, she makes herself into one.
- “Let the record show, the world of Linaria has no legal precedent, it’s much too unique!”
There are three things I look for in a fantasy novel. A compelling story, interesting characters, and rich world-building. I’m happy to report that this novel does indeed feature the full trifecta! One thing that really struck me was how unique this world was. I’ve read books with dragons soaring the skies before, but this was the only one I’ve read where phoenixes seek out and trail those dragons. I also enjoyed the magic system as well, particularly the way it would flow through music at times. There are so many elements that are explored, from the history and abilities of the various people of Linaria (some of whom can even shapeshift into different animals), right down to the intricate details like the significance of the color of the gems some of them wear. L.L. McNeil describes all of this in such an energetic and clear fashion, I truly felt immersed in this world. The only thing more magical than the world of Linaria is the writing style of the author bringing it to life!
- “Is the person who attacked your castle in the courtroom today?”
While Moroda and her companions get many moments to shine, the villains aren’t so lucky. It’s not that the villains aren’t interesting, in fact, they’re absolutely mesmerizing when they do step into the spotlight. The problem is that they get so little time in said spotlight. Even the main antagonist’s motivation and backstory are actually told by someone else, rather than letting us experience it through the villain's own eyes or words. In those very rare moments where big bad Aciel and his chief general Jato do appear on the page, they are deliciously fun to read about, which makes it all the more disappointing that we don’t get to see more of them.
- “The dragons will take a short recess now.”
Although the second half of the novel flows very well, the pacing is a bit off in the first half. The book opens up very strong with the title heroine struggling to get out of jail, and the next few chapters race from one thrilling action sequence to the next. However, when the adventuring party reaches the town of Berel, it’s here that the action ceases for a while and the world’s culture and history are explored. While I did still find these sections fascinating, it seemed like the story would have flowed better if the action and world-building sections had been mixed together more. Fortunately, this gets rectified as the second half of the novel is more cohesive.
- “We the jury find the book… ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!!!
“Moroda” may be the first novel by L.L. McNeil, but she already writes with the talent and imagination of a seasoned veteran. With its rich world, compelling storyline, and unforgettable characters, this book is a reminder of why I’m so grateful to GoodReads for introducing me to books like this. A must-read for any fans of the fantasy genre.