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Book Review: ‘Dragon Rider’ by Taran Matharu

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Jai feels powerless. The third son of a defeated king, he’s been held as a political hostage by the Sabine empire since he was four. Jai hasn’t been held in a dungeon. Instead, he’s been forced to serve as a caregiver (read slave) to Leonid, the emperor that killed his father. But things are changing in the empire. Leonid’s grandson is preparing for a marriage to a Dansk princess that will finally bring peace to the Sabine empire. But not everyone wants peace. After a shocking betrayal, Jai ends up on the run with a Dansk handmaiden and a newly hatched dragon. Jai finally has power, but can he use it to find safety together and avenge their people? Find out in Dragon Rider (The Soulbound Saga Vol. 1) by Taran Matharu

[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of contains some spoilers!]

A ruthless empire at the center of Dragon Rider by Taran Matharu

Dragon Rider opens with the Sabine royal family gathered to watch a battle like it’s performance art. Safe in their tent, they joke and snack on candies while men die in front of them. They’re unexpectedly joined by the Dansk royal family, and their dragons.

The Dansk also bring an army of their own to join the Sabine’s in crushing the farmers that are trying to protect their land. The farmers don’t stand a chance, and it’s a massacre, with the few survivors doomed to a short life of slavery and abuse.

The Dansk have come to honor a peace treaty with the Sabines. The price of peace was a marriage between Erica, the crown princess of Dansk, and Titus, the heir apparent of the Sabine empire. Neither is very happy about the arrangement, but that’s royal duty.

Jai watches all the court intrigue without much interest. No matter what he’ll serve Leonid until he comes of age and is returned to his people. And no matter what he’ll be treated like dirt until that time. A royal marriage won’t really make a difference for him.

Dragon Rider by Taran Matharu

Betrayal and escape after a Game of Thrones like betrayal

But then tragedy strikes. At the rehearsal wedding all the Sabine guests are poisoned, even the emperor himself! Only Titus and a few of his loyal guards are spared. Surely, this is the work of the Dansk, a complete betrayal, so the guards quickly kill all of the Dansk guards.

Only the princess’ handmaiden manages to escape on the back of a dragon. Luckily for Jai, he wasn’t at the wedding. Leonid was too tired to go so they watched from a balcony. The shock he felt was only matched by the discovery of the true betrayer, Titus! He orchestrated it all for more power. Leonid is overcome with remorse in his old age, so he helps Jai to escape before Titus can kill him too.

Jai runs, but he is almost caught. His only option is to hide inside the body of a dead Dansk dragon. While he’s in there, he finds a small, warm object that calls to him. Hardly knowing what he’s doing, Jai takes it with him when the coast is clear again.

Running for his life and slowly freezing to death in the winter night, Jai ends up laying down holding on to object and succumbing to death. Except he doesn’t. It turns out the object was an egg, and the dragon within deems Jai worthy enough to soulbond. An extremely painful process that often kills the people attempting it, soulbonding forever links the souls of a human and a magical creature.

Jai survives the experience and wakes up more powerful than he’s ever felt in his life. And with more hope than he’s ever had. With this new power, he can return home to his people, take his place as king, and destroy the Sabine empire. 

Of course, he’ll have to survive the long journey back home first, and he doesn’t know the first thing about being soulbound, especially to a dragon. The Dansk are the only ones who know anything about these secretive creatures. Luckily for Jai, he runs into the princess’ handmaiden, Frida, as he’s escaping. The two decide to team up and help each other return home. It will be a long and dangerous journey, but Jai is hopeful for the first time ever. As the only two witnesses to the wedding massacre, the whole empire is chasing him and Frida, will they make it to safety or are they already doomed?

Dragon Rider is an okay offering but could be better

I found Matharu’s Dragon Rider to be a middle of the pack kind of story. There were all the elements of a great tale: warring kingdoms, magical creatures, a dangerous journey, and mismatched companions. But somehow the mix just didn’t make it past okay.

The characters didn’t quite grab me. They were alright, I wanted them to succeed, but I wasn’t caught up in their struggles. Winter, Jai’s dragon, was cute and playful but I didn’t quite want to take her home. Rufus, their hired help, was lovably flawed, but I didn’t want to hang out by the campfire with him. 

I can’t quite put my finger on why this story didn’t work for me, it just didn’t. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. Maybe it’ll hit better for someone else? If you want something to just pass the time, this will work. But don’t expect to be blown away by it.

Rating: 7/10

Dragon Rider (The Soulbound Saga Vol. 1) by Taran Matharu is now available most places books are sold. You can find out more about author on Taran Matharu’s Soulbound Saga and other series on his official site at authortaranmatharu.com.  

Do you plan on checking out this book or any other of Matharu’s series? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus!

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Luna Gauthier

I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter

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