In the kingdom of Etrusia where dragons fly, the emperor has died, and five teens must compete to become his successor. But instead of calling the eldest child of each house, as tradition dictates, a ragtag bunch of misfits have been selected: Emilia, a scholar with deadly powers; Lucian, a repentant soldier who wants to be a monk; Vespir, a servant and dragon trainer; Ajax, a thief; and Hyperia, a cunning and savage member of the nobility.
The teens compete with their dragons in challenges that test their physical strength and political prowess. Although they know only one will be crowned and the other four will be killed, the competitors bond when a mysterious puppeteer begins toying with them, turning the atmosphere from cutthroat to cautious. As certain death looms, they must unite to expose a sinister plot before the kingdom—and everyone they love—is destroyed.
Despite clocking in at over 500 pages, House of Dragons moves at a fast clip. Dragon races and basilisk-hunting—aided by romantic drama and villainous face-offs—fuel the action, while the short chapters, narrated by perspectives that rotate among the five protagonists, drive momentum and tighten pacing.
Jessica Cluess effortlessly juggles individual arcs for all five protagonists and explores thought-provoking questions about the relationship between nature and nurture. Ajax, for example, a thief raised by the man who raped his mother, shares the circumstances of low birth with Vespir, the dragon trainer, but finds common ground with Hyperia, whose ruthless actions are shockingly violent. Yet Ajax also uses humor as a defense mechanism, which brings much-needed levity to tense scenes, and the nuance in Hyperia’s character hints that redemption may await her in later books.
Readers will be lured in by the dragons and “Game of Thrones”-style subterfuge, but Cluess’ world building and high-stakes conflict will ensure they stick around for the sequel.