Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 431 pages
Rating: 4.5 ⭐️
The emperor has died and noble dragon riders are called to compete in four trials to determine who will be his replacement. There is Emilia (the liar), Lucian (the solider), Hyperia (the murderer), Vesper (the servant), and Ajax (the thief). Five will enter the trials, but only one can win.
Emilia is a bookworm who, due to her outlawed, chaotic magic has been isolated for the past four years. Lucian comes from a family of soldiers but after witnessing the horrors of war has become a pacifist. Hyperia is a cold and proud woman who is quite the contrast to the quiet, meek Vespir who works with dragons. Finally, Ajax is one of several dozen bastards who steals and acts brazenly to make up for his feelings of inadequacy. I would describe Emilia, Hyperia, and Ajax as very active characters while Vespir and Lucian are much more passive.
Of the five only Emilia and Lucian have a preexisting friendship before the trials commence. However, the characters all develop a very natural rapport with each other despite the fact that they are competing against each other. While there was definitely still rivalry, I appreciated how they were all committed to a fair, honest fight.
This world takes place within an empire that is constantly expanding/conquering and in which there are 5 noble houses. All of the nobles are dragon riders, with each House having its own distinct subspecies of dragon.
For the most part this world was quite well developed. A lot of attention was given to each House including their history, lands, and relationships with other houses. The only part of this world that felt underdeveloped was the magic system. In this world there is orderly and chaotic magic, neither of which was that well explained.
The novel is told from the third person perspectives of all of the competitors; meaning there are 5 total. Each character had a distinct personality and voice so it was easy to distinguish between them.
For the most part this novel had solid pacing. The only places it was awkward and slow were the beginning chapters and during the final trial. This was in large part due to the repetitive nature of seeing the same event 5 times in a row through each character's perspective.
This novel had a good blend of adventure, politics, and mystery. I saw several other reviewers refer to this book as a YA Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire, and I most definitely agree with those comparisons. It has many similar elements but is much more accessible for a younger audience. If you're a fan of dragons, competitions, or just YA fantasy in general then I recommend picking this book up.