“Hic Sunt Dracones.”
Here there be dragons. Supposedly, ancient mapmakers used those words to warn of the most dangerous, unknown reaches of their worlds. Because dragons were deadly, merciless predators the warning served a caution to explorers venturing into the unknown. Certainly the original dragons were bad news in most Western myth systems. Consider:
- Satan, according to the biblical Book of Revelations, was a seven-headed red dragon with ten horns.
- The patron saint of England, St. George, battled a poison-breathing dragon who noshed on children and maidens.
- Greek myths have Jason killing a sleepless dragon to obtain the Golden Fleece.
- In Spanish (Austurian region in northern Spain) mythology,Asturian (from Asturias, a region of northern Spain) the Cuélebre dragons are giant winged serpents that hoard treasures in their caves and keep Xanas (nymphs) as prisoners.
- Fáfnir, from Norse myths (and Wagnerian operatic interpretation) is the first of the intelligent, talking dragons, and probably the model for Tolkien’s dragons Glaurung and Smaug.
The list goes on and on. But after Tolkien, something else happened. Perhaps influenced by the Eastern dragon myths that associate dragons with nature and wisdom, literary dragons got a makeover. Kinder, gentler, or at least more intelligent dragons exploded across literary genres, from classic SciFi (Asimov, Norton, McCaffrey, etc.) to paranormal romantics (MaryJanice Davidson, Kristie MacAlister, G.A. Aiken, Thea Harrison, etc.) to alternate histories (Naomi Novik, Robin McKinley) to the 31 Flavors of Fantasy (George R. Martin). But something else started to appear too. The heroes changed from armor-clad knights who behead dragons to spunky dragon friends who are often children (How to Train Your Dragon) and even girls (Tamora Pierce, Patricia Wrede). Can I say how much I welcome these feisty, self-reliant, strong female characters and their dragon pals? To make it even better, I’ve just finished reading Caren J Werlinger’s Rising from the Ashes—an exciting new addition to this group.
Of course, the real question is not what you like in your dragons, but how they like you. With or without ketchup.
Rising from the Ashes, The Chronicles of Caymin (Book 1, The Dragonmage Saga) by Caren J Werlinger
Ancient Ireland – an era of clan wars, petty kings and invasions by raiders from the north.
As Christianity tightens its hold, magic and the old ways fight to keep their place in the hearts of the people.
Born into this world is Ash, orphaned and maimed, left to die. She is rescued by a clan of badgers and raised to be one of them. As she grows, so does her magic, until at last she comes to the attention of other humans. Some of them want to protect her; some want to use her.
When she bonds with an orphaned dragon cub, the two of them become pawns in a bid for power. Forced to flee, dragon and dragonmage embark on a quest to seek the answers as to why they were bonded and what their future holds.
When I started reading Rising From the Ashes, I was skeptical. Dragons in Ireland? I went straight to my favorite Irish myth expert, Ali Isaacs, who didn’t let me down. In her blog post, The Serpent in Irish Mythology, she recounts several stories of heroes battling dragons. And best of all, she mentions their Irish name—péista.
So when the young apprentice mage Ash meets the strange creature who tells her it’s name is Péist, I knew we were in for some fun. The story is an alternate history, a coming of age tale in the best fantasy traditions, complete with authentic historical details reminiscent of Monica Furlong’s classic Wise Child and Juniper, combined with the adventure and heroism of Robin McKinley’s Hero and Crown series.
Adopted by badgers (badgers!) as an infant after her village is destroyed by invaders, Ash survives because of her ability to communicate with animals. Although discovered and accepted as apprentice by mages, Ash and her new friends’ existence is threatened by the increasing influence of the Christianity introduced to Ireland by Saint Patrick in the fifth century.
Author CJ Werlinger treads a delicate path here, balancing between the magic lore taught and practiced by her fictional mages and the reality that we know the Christians were eventually successful. The young heroine isn’t a warrior, and her motives are to protect her friends, her forest, and the mysterious Péist. I admired the way Ash’s acceptance of her own vulnerability is both her protection and her strength. And I particularly liked the way she and Péist bond to form a union that is more than the sum of their parts.
The world building is wonderful. Not only do we get the strong sense of the realities of everyday life, but we also watch Ash grow into her own unique strengths and convictions. The tale begins slowly, and then moves ever faster as the threat grows for her little band of mage teachers and student apprentices. For the most part, characters were well-drawn and memorable. The voices of the various narrators were believable, whether told through the scent-focused badger, the displaced young girl, or the old woman with a lifetime of learning to share. The story arc is wrapped up beautifully, with just enough to introduce the new challenge that awaits in the next volume.
Although I did find it a bit difficult to accept how quickly Ash mastered what seemed complex magical concepts, that is really my only critique of the tale. I wouldn’t hesitate to give it five out of five stars for originality, strong voice, and a terrific concept. If I knew a YA reader looking for a story with a strong heroine, compelling story line, and (best of all!) dragons, I would recommend Rising from the Ashes. I know I’m looking forward to reading more of this promising series.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
- Book Title: Rising From the Ashes: The Chronicles of Caymin (The Dragonmage Saga Book 1)
- Author: Caren J Werlinger
- Genre: YA paranormal fantasy/alternate history
- Publisher: Corgyn Publishing, LLC (February 1, 2016)
- Pages: 306
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Caren was raised in Ohio, the oldest of four children. Much of her childhood was spent reading every book she could get her hands on, and crafting her own stories. She was influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather, and the Brontë sisters. She has lived in Virginia for over twenty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her partner and their canine furchildren. She began writing creatively again several years ago. Her first novel, Looking Through Windows, won a Debut Author award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2009. Since then, she has published eight more novels, winning Rainbow Awards and a 2014 GCLS Award for In This Small Spot. Her latest release, Rising From the Ashes: The Chronicles of Caymin, is the first volume in The Dragonmage Saga.