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House of Dragons Review

by Nicole Korman
House of Dragons cover

“One day after the emperor had died and been eaten, the call went out to select his successor.”

House of Dragons

In the empire of Etrusia, once an emperor dies, candidates of the five great houses are selected to compete in trials to claim the throne.  When their dragon answers the calling, the candidate is selected. The decision is final, and the only way out is death.  

Each house expects that their eldest child will be selected.  This time, misfits and younger children are selected instead, which creates a new dynamic to the competition.

House of Dragons book cover

House of Dragons Review

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess is a mash up of stories like Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, and The Breakfast Club. The five competing for the throne are a liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer.

Emelia “the Liar”- House Arun

Emelia is the second born child of House Arun.  She was born possessing destructive and unpredictable chaos magic. Chaos magic (as opposed to order magic) is outlawed, and anyone caught with it is publicly tortured and executed.

While Emelia knows her strengths and weaknesses, along with those of her competition, she has resigned herself to losing due to her illegal powers. Her lack of self confidence is brought on by her parents, who try to undermine her efforts to succeed.

Emelia was probably one of my favorite characters, and the one that I would have picked for the throne.  Out of all the competitors, Emelia had the strongest understanding of politics. She is similar to Hermione Granger, if Hermione could blow things up with her mind.

Lucian “the Soldier”- House Sabel

Lucian is the Empire’s golden boy.  A decorated soldier/ conqueror, he has all the makings of a future emperor.  Unfortunately the horrors of war have disillusioned Lucian about the Etrusian Empire.

Right before the calling, Lucian is preparing himself to leave his home and join a monastic brotherhood.  Vowing to never pick up a sword again, Lucian enters the competition with the hopes of winning so that he can change the empire for the better.

While Lucian tries his best to succeed through pacifism, it was frustrating at some points because he spends most of the book thinking that he deserves pain. 

Vespir “the Servant”- House Pentri

The only competitor not blood related to the house she represents, Vespir is at a great disadvantage.  Taken from her home at an early age to serve House Pentri as a dragon trainer, all Vespir knows is servitude.  She is in love with Antonia, the house heir, and dreams of Antonia winning so that she can leave. 

No one is more surprised than Vespir when her dragon answers the calling.  At the beginning of the trials, she is literally scared sick.  She does not see herself as an equal, and tries to run away.

Halfway through House of Dragons, Vespir loses a trial, and I was so relieved to see her finally get mad.  This is the turning point where she goes from frightened to empowered.

Ajax- “the Thief”- House Tiber

The 21st bastard son out of 27 in House Tiber, Ajax is used to doing whatever it takes to get ahead.  He is more than happy to connive and thieve if it means that he can improve his station.

I loved Ajax.  It was refreshing to see a teenage boy in a YA fantasy act like a teenage boy.  Ajax dreams of money, power, and women. Unfortunately that is the only thing that he thinks is required of an emperor, so he is uneducated and unprepared for the trials.

Hyperia- “the Murderer”- House Volscia

The first child of House Arun, Hyperia is the only competitor that is prepared for the trials.  She has been trained from an early age to prize honor, order, and the Empire above all else. 

Vespir describes Hyperia’s dragon as being deprived of human connection, so that he always remained angry.  The same is true of Hyperia.  From an early age her father forced her to ingest poisons, kill her pets, and commit other atrocities all for the sake of making her “strong.”. 

Hyperia was such an interesting character.  Her story was a great “making of a villain” origin.  It was refreshing to see this vicious girl do whatever it takes, and I was always looking forward to what she would do next.

An Age of Empires and Dragons

The world building in House of Dragons falls into the “Roman Empire” trope. The map in the beginning of the book is not-so-loosely based on Europe and some of the Middle East. The Empire is a rapidly expanding and conquering entity, and the characters have Latin names.

The map was helpful for visualizing various locations, but I really would have liked more originality. Original world building is what really elevates fantasy books, so this was kind of a let down.

For much of House of Dragons the dragons could have been replaced with horses, and the story would not have changed. They are props that help move the plot along, but they are not in many of the key parts of this story. If you are expecting a lot of action with really interesting dragons, about half of this book will be a let down.

The sub-plot of chaos magic vs. order magic was interesting. I liked that Emelia’s power really was destructive, and not totally misunderstood. It would have been interesting if there was a main character with order magic, so that the two could be compared. Again, I really hope that this becomes a bigger part of the next book.

I found House of Dragons to be a great first book in this series. The world building could have been better, but the characters made up for it. I loved Emelia’s savvy, Lucian’s anger, Vespir’s growth, Ajax’s cunning, and Hyperia’s ruthlessness. I’m not sure how many additional books Jessica Cluess has planned, but the ending left me wanting more.

Looking for more great reviews?

Check out my review of the Sisters of the Winter Wood here.

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