The Blood-Born Dragon (The Everlands Cycle #1), by J.C. Rycroft

The Book

The Blood-Born Dragon
Series: The Everland Cycle
Pages: 362
Age Group: Adult
Published on 4/30/2023
Publisher: Self-Published
QueerEpic Fantasy
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A bond she didn’t choose.
A love she can’t escape.
A creature so powerful it bends the limits of time…

Smart, sassy, and sanguine, Des Mildue is a traveling sellsword in Rescalin, a dry and dusty kingdom full of rogues, opportunists, and thieves. She keeps her nose clean, brazens it out with a blade when she can’t, and keeps others at arm’s length where they can’t mess up her plans.

That is, until a sword fight gone wrong leaves her tied by blood to the first dragon hatched in centuries. Suddenly, Des has to contend with a new voice in her head: haughty, willful Esquidamelion. Des wants to leave Squid by the roadside, but the blood bond has other ideas.

With half the world on their tail - including Liv, her beautiful, faithless ex who Des is definitely over - Des must search for answers for why so many are willing to kill, maim and torture to get their hands on Squid. But she’s beginning to suspect her blood bond has tied her not only to a dragon, but to a fight for Rescalin’s future……

and no one else even knows it’s at risk.  

My Review (4.5 out of 5 )

“Look, I get it,” I say, after a decent spell of silence bar the whistle of my sword. “I do. You thought I was easy prey. Here I was, riding along, looking for all the world like a weaponless fool in a pretty silk jacket. You made me an offer based on that assessment. But none of those things are true … except for the pretty silk jacket.”
I pause for a moment, making a show of scanning the desert horizon, blade still spinning in the light. “So why don’t we just leave it here? You can go home with all your limbs, and I’ll be on my way. Better deal than the one you offered me.”

The Blood-Born Dragon is the first book in the sapphic epic fantasy saga The Everlands Cycle, written by J.C. Rycroft. A fantastic debut novel, following the story of Des Mildue, a mercenary in Rescalin, who after a fight that goes wrong gets blood tied to the first dragon those lands have seen in half a hundred years; while she would have liked to leave Esquimadelion at one side of the road, the blood bond has other intentions.

I stand very, very still, trying to force my mind to make sense of what it’s seeing. Coiled in the little pile of money is a minute but very complete statuette of a lizard curled around itself. Cast in a dull silver, perhaps even pewter, it’s about the size of my thumb.
But it moves.
My heart beats like a punch. In fact, if my eyes aren’t deceiving, its little sides heave in and out. I blink and stare and try to clear my vision, or my mind, or whatever it is making me see impossible things.

There's not much time for Des to realize what hatching Squid really means, because all Rescalin is soon persecuting them, trying to get their hands on Squid, including Des' ex-lover, Liz, a charming person, but the last one she would like to see. 
Des still needs to know what to do with the dragon, as Squid only repeats to her she should take it to a location that doesn't appear on the maps. Squid is manifesting its ability to bend time, becoming an ever bigger headache for poor Des.

With this premise, a big journey across the Everlands starts, with many characters supporting the story, especially memorable Liz and Elouise; the first one as part of a sapphic enemy to lovers trope, but a little bit expanded (and not going to lie, I might want to strangle Liz), adding spice to the story, and the second one, as part of those that would help our reluctant heroine.

She nods. “It will be hard; I don’t doubt it. But I cannot see any other option. For the moment, the King of Ascelin is at bay. Our beloved sovereign will be riding to my rescue … and when he gets here, and when he saves me, well, I know what price he will expect me to pay.” She smiles a very tight smile. “And I fear we’d risk the world with it.”

Talking a little about Des and her bond to Squid, it's amazing to see how it evolves and grows during the whole novel, passing from almost hating themselves to friendship and confidence. Des is a sassy and brilliant character by herself, a sellsword whose only idea was to reach a safe place until she got bonded with a dragon, becoming without expecting it a key piece for the Everlands.

He blushes and smiles awkwardly. “Well, yes, but…” He gestures. “You wear a dragon on your back. It’s like a story, like one of those hero stories…”
I glance sideways at him, trying not to smile. “Oh, Twist. This isn’t a hero story, I can promise you that.”

The urgency of the travel isn't a problem to show the amazing worldbuilding Rycroft has done, with many winks to Australian/South-Asian flora and fauna; a big world where the political powers have their own plans, with the King of Rescalin trying to claim for himself the power of Squid.
I personally liked the Quencher tribe, and their link to dragons, how they act as that last piece in the puzzle between the ancestral power and Squid; their body has adapted to living in the caverns, in a Gollum-like form.

While the pacing is not excessively fast at the start of the book, introducing us to our main character and the world, once it picks up, it doesn't stop until the end, hooking us to the pages of this book. Rycroft chose to use a first-person narrator that worked especially well in combination with the sharpness of her prose; mention deserved to the fight scenes, where she perfectly paints the chaos and the tension in battle.

The torturer raises the club, not terribly high, trying to respond to this newest threat, and as I swing my blade, it comes crashing down.
Twist screams, horrifyingly shrill, and I slice in against the torturer’s shoulder as the blond head drops to the floor. I roar, fierce and wordless, stepping forward to put myself between the crumpled heap of Twist and that club. Not this time. No. Never again.

The Blood-Born Dragon is an excellent debut, that left me craving for more books by this author. If you like epic fantasy with a touch of sapphic spice added, smart characters, and convention-breaking worlds, give it a try!

The Author/s

J.C. Rycroft

J.C. Rycroft

I’ve written stories for most of my life.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been entranced by stories and storytelling. I am vastly entertained by the unchosen heroes who can’t quite believe it, by encounters that are funny by accident, by desire that pokes its head where it’s not quite wanted (why hello queerness fancy meeting you here… again!), by fury that fills the soul and cannot be tamed. I love some meat on the bones of a story, but I want a rollicking good read. So that’s what I write.

I’ve always loved, too, imagining other places, other ways of being, other ways the world could be built, other ways of thinking of time, other ways that people deemed other might relate. So it’s no surprise I’m drawn to fantasy and sci-fi as a genre. Imagining elsewheres and who might live there are some of my favourite things to do.

My PhD trained me as a cultural theorist, which means I have some pretty complex tools for understanding the world in reach. But it also means that I know that the ways that we talk about things – from our relationships, to the natural world, to political structures – make some things imaginable, realistic, realisable, normal, real. And others unimaginable, unrealistic, impossible, weird-as-fuck dreams. We talk about ‘world-building’ in fiction all the time – but I think all of the fantastical worlds we read and write shape our own as well.

So if this sounds like a ride you’d like to join me on, stick around. The best way to stay in contact right now is via my mailing list or on Facebook. But I’d also love to hear from you directly, so please don’t be shy.