One catastrophe is all it takes.T
The world of Iona has forgotten the time when dragons ruled the skies and their Viden riders controlled the wind.
The Evandis War, started by the long dead Cinead the Decayed, was won, but at the extermination of every dragon and rider. Evelyn, the last Viden, has been in hiding for her entire life, but no more. Once she bonds with Oretem, the last dragon, her purpose quickly turns from being the shield for those she loves, to the blade that fights to survive.
A Reticent assassin haunts her steps, one who has his own demons to battle. They both seek a single person-Meric, a bounty hunter Venandi, who the assassin endeavors to destroy and the Viden hopes to save. These three lives intertwine in ways that leave them questioning everything they've ever known. The roots of Isla's Reach burrow deep to carry the world, and it won't be long until they've broken entirely.
"The welling of blood is much like the blooming of a flower. Glistening and sanguine, blood planted and grew into the floor of the wooden steel ship, sprouting from the bodies that lay dead on the deck above."
Isla's Reach is the first book in the Breaths and Depths duology, a grimdark novel that constitutes the debut of Francisca Liliana, also known for her labour as a book reviewer. A delicious grimdark adventure, which screams epic fantasy from the prelude to the ending, with well-fleshed characters and really elaborated prose at some points that made me enjoy it even more.
After a prelude that throws us directly into what happened at the Evander War, we start following Evelyn, the last Viden, a girl that has been in the hide in her small village, Verbena, until now; all to assume a role as protector of her people bonding the last dragon, Oretem. Her role soon changes, after a catastrophe devastates Verbena, having Evelyn fight to survive while on the run.
A Reticent assassin, Maun, with his own demons to fight, is chasing her; hoping he will also find Meric, a Venandi bounty hunter who has too many regrets, who he hopes to destroy. Meanwhile, Evelyn hopes to find and save him from Maun, hopefully repairing her bond with Oretem, because if not, the world she knows might end in fire and destruction.
"I am a woman of no extravagance. I have no great battles to boast of, nor difficult feats I've conquered. I only have my little village and the simple people who reside there. Each one of them is an entire world, possessing the love and pain of what makes life so sweet. Together, they create a universe of utterly ordinary people whom I could not love more were I to rip out my own beating heart. I have bonded for them, to live for them, and to one day die among them."
Liliana intertwines those three POVs (Evelyn, Maun, and Meric) to create a story of epic proportions, which lands a little bit more on the side of being a character-driven novel. This ends up being one of the main strengths of this title, as we have fully-fleshed characters, with extraordinary depth; you might end up disliking some of them (Maun's POV is extremely dark at some points), and others end up growing into you. Evelyn is particularly interesting, as she lives a particularly complicated experience, a total rollercoaster of emotions, going from the happiness of bonding with Oretem, to the grief after being unable to protect Verbena from its destruction, to the uncertainty of being in the run; a really complete character that passes so many things.
This book also has an extremely complex world-building, including animal companions (we have several of them during the plot) and a soft system of magic. The own world has its history, whose consequences we are experiencing during the novel (with some of the most important moments being presented with flashbacks); in general, Liliana has nailed this aspect of writing.
"You did what you had to do. Killing is nothing like the songs of battle sung around the fire amongst friends. You'll find no comfort in dwelling upon questioning your motives or that of the dead ones. All you can do is keep moving forward, with the hope that there was no other choice."
Pacing is kinda slow at the start, being used this space as a sort of introduction to Isla's Reach and its world; but soon it picks up, and all the previous work done pays off, making the book an authentic page-turner once we have passed the initial arc. From that moment, it will slow to let us breathe a bit in before inflicting more emotional damage (seriously, this book is a rollercoaster of emotions).
I don't want to end this review without commenting on Liliana's prose, because I feel it is one of the aspects I appreciated more from her craft. There are so many memorable moments and phrases I would have liked to highlight, all on top of this excellent story.
Isla's Reach is an excellent debut novel, perfect for those that enjoy grimdark stories with an epic scope. Francisca Liliana has jumped into my list of authors I will read whatever they write, and can't wait for the second book of the duology.
Francisca Liliana is an epic fantasy author from Arizona, USA. She's a lover of all things fantasy and has a healthy obsessive adoration for every form of epic nerdiness. When she's not melting in the desert heat, she's soul-deep in yet another grimdark read. Having grown up on classic authors such as Charlotte Bronte, Edgar Allan Poe, and Victor Hugo, Francisca has always been drawn to the darker side of storytelling. Fascinated with the art of worldbuilding and fantasy, she holds authors such as Steven Erikson, Brian Staveley and Robin Hobb closest to her heart. She speaks exclusively in Lord of the Rings quotes and finds it to be a light for her in dark places. She holds to one truth and that is to never stop believing in dragons.