I loved Eva Evergreen enough to buy it on audiobook and listen again with my daughter, so I was eagerly awaiting this origin story of Eva’s mother’s best friend, Queen Alliana. It is eligible to be nominated for the Cybils Awards, so if you read and loved it, keep an eye out for nominations, which open as always on October 1.
Alliana, Girl of Dragons
by Julie Abe
Little Brown, 2022
Read from a library copy.
Also available as an ebook through Libby.
Here, we are introduced to the future queen when she’s an abused orphan working in her stepmother’s inn. This is told as a Cinderella story – Alliana remembers her time learning about herbs near the magical Rift from her father fondly, as well as the inn’s coziness before her father vanished into the Rift and her stepmother took over the inn. Now the only person at home who cares for her is her step-grandmother, Mari, who keeps to herself in the attic and doesn’t know how poorly Alliana is treated.
Alliana and her best friend, baker’s boy Isao, dream of escape to someplace beyond their dusty backwater town, but neither sees a way of escape. Isao would need a proper apprenticeship – difficult when he cares for his younger brother as well – while Alliana’s stepmother holds ever-growing debt over her head. Alliana’s best chance of escape is going to the nearby landowner’s annual ball for kids coming of age, where she would be tested for her ability to go to the Royal Academy. But she knows her stepmother will do everything in her power to keep Alliana and her free labor at the inn.
Then, two things happen that begin, slowly, to reduce her stepmother’s hold on her. As she’s picking herbs near the Rift one day, she sees a gap in the magical barrier that keeps the creatures from the depths away from the human realm, and a small baby dragon under attack near it. When she saves it, she earns its enduring devotion – and discovers that she has the long-lost ability to hear it communicating with her.
Next, she meets a young apprentice witch her own age, Nela Evergreen, who quickly becomes friends with her (as well as falling hard for Isao’s baking.) With help from Isao, Nela, and her dragon, she just might find her way to the ball and away from her cruel stepfamily.
While I love this world and loved reading about her time with Grandmother Mari, Isao, Nela, and the dragon, most of Alliana’s time is tainted by her stepfamily’s deliberate cruelty – working her so hard she doesn’t have time to sleep, depriving her of proper food, and stealing or breaking her few possessions. Her journey to freedom is more straight up the side of the Rift than uphill, and I was definitely cheering for her by the time she got there.