Queen Ellyria just wants her sick triplet sons to live, each ruling over a third of the kingdom as their dying father wished. When she finds herself trapped in a deadly bargain with a Dark Spirit, she recruits a band of young mages to help - but a terrible curse takes over. The Dark Spirit befriends her enemies and seduces her friends, and Ellyria soon finds that famine, pestilence, betrayal and bereavement are all in its arsenal. Can Ellyria unite the elvish and mortal sides of her family and in so doing, save the kingdom?It only took me a couple of pages to get interested in the story, but a few chapters to be sold on the concept. The start initially struck me as a little contrived — basically the events described in the blurb — with the Queen getting into trouble through a momentary lapse. On the other hand, it does make sense if you think about it analytically. This was actually a minor issue that recurred throughout the book; some events made sense but felt a little off when reading.
On a similar note, I found some of the dialogue a tad improbable. There was a lot of people saying exactly what was on their minds and explaining their motivations in careful detail. That just isn't how people talk and a little obfuscation would have gone a long way to adding an extra layer in some instances. Similarly, sometimes decisions were made too easily. Again, they made logical sense, but lacked an extra layer of depth. This particularly applied to the climactic battle/war scenes, which lacked tension and left me ambivalent. On the other hand, there were some smaller-scale fight scenes earlier, which I thought were quite good — like the first one between an elf and a group of dwarfs.
Of the characters, I enjoyed reading Ellyria's story, but I felt I connected better with Tammi and Jedderin, who were younger. I didn't like Beverak, Tammi's husband and Ellyria's son, at first, but warmed to him as he began to see reason and let go of his prejudices. I get the feeling that this trilogy will follow one triplet-brother (and his family) per book so in this book we learn a lot about Beverak but very little about the other two brothers. I would be interested to learn more about them in future books.
One thing that was done well in The Dagger of Dresnia was foreshadowing. There were a few scenes where I was wondering how they fit into the narrative only to have it revealed later on when it slotted in famously. The ending kind of did this too. I had a suspicion it was coming but the way it actually happened was great. (No spoilers!) It was hilarious like a pun, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I don't think I can say more without spoiling it though.
The Dagger of Dresnia was a reasonable read. It was a little shaky at times, but that's not unusual in a début. Flavell shows promise and I'm interested to see how this develops in future books. The first book finishes with a lot of unresolved badness, so there's definitely a lot of hook to hang further plots off.
3.5 / 5 stars
Series: The Talismans, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: review copy provided by the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge