House of Dragons is the first entry in Jessica Cluess’ new must-read fantasy series

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House
House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House /

House of Dragons is the first installment in a new fantasy series from author Jessica Cluess, that’s sure to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your heart.

Missing a regular dose of dragons in your life ever since Game of Thrones went off the air? Enter the first book in author Jessica Cluess’ new fantasy trilogy, House of Dragons, a saga that’s got it all: Religion, politics, murder, betrayal, adventure, and, as the title suggests, lots of different kinds of dragons. It’s the sort of high fantasy YA readers everywhere will scoop up this summer, and barely notice its nearly 500-page length.

Cluess’ first fantasy trilogy, the Kingdom on Fire series, is memorable (and well worth reading) for its fantastic heroine, complex world-building, and the Eldritch monsters involved. House of Dragons takes many of the elements that made Cluess’ first series so compelling and turns them all up to eleven, crafting five distinctive families, a half dozen different dragon breeds and a complex, layered system of power, religion and class that keeps so many of the people in the kingdom of Etrusia oppressed.

In the Etrusian Empire, when an Emperor dies, the Great Dragon usually names the oldest child from each of the five noble houses to compete in a series of trials with their dragons. Yes, dragons are a thing in this universe, and unlike some other dragon stories you may have seen lately, this story is a bit more complicated. There are many breeds of dragons, which each boast specific traits, hail from different parts of the kingdom, and tend to be flown by specific families. They also, as a species, have a rich and storied history that’s tied to humanity’s, particularly as it involves a war between those who practiced Chaos and those who were loyal to Order magic.

The winner of this trial claims the Dragon Throne; the other four are executed.

However, following the death of Emperor Erasmus, slightly less traditional choices choices are made. Instead of summoning firstborn heirs, those who are Called include youngest children, illegitimate heirs, family servants and even a competitor who arrives by virtue of killing the original person who was called to take part. This ragtag group must face a series of challenges that will test their greatest weaknesses, and ultimately come together to the end to save their kingdom.

Whether they will be able to do so is another question entirely.

The story of House of Dragons is spread across the perspectives of five different characters, who each have their own secrets, histories, abilities and fears. There’s Hyperia, a warrior who’s trained her entire life for a moment like this, confident and secure in her ability and rightness. Vesper is a dragon trainer with a deep and abiding love for the creators that upper class Etrusians take for granted. Emilia is a brilliant scholar, but she’s spent most of her life hiding a terrible secret: She’s a Chaotic, viewed as a destructive abomination by her people. Ajax is one of dozens of illegitimate children, who has spent his life fighting for scraps at the table of a man who probably doesn’t know he exists. And Lucian is a famous warrior, who has vowed to never pick up a sword again.

Suffice it to say: These are not the sort of candidates who are usually called to the Emperor’s Trial.

House of Dragons manages to deftly juggle the competing stories of each of its main characters, letting us get to know them on their own terms, and keeping their personalities and voices distinct enough that they feel like real people. Getting to know them all is half the fun of this story, and there are plenty of twists and secrets awaiting each.

The other thing that sets this novel apart from the rest of the fantasy pack is its rich and detailed worldbuilding. Like all good fantasy stories, House of Dragons feels as though it exists in a universe that existed long before we started reading about it, and will keep going long after we stop. The complicated political and religious histories attached to various regions and people are fascinating, as is the sense of depth attached to this (admittedly, very strange) process of choosing an Emperor. The hint of information about the former Chaos Kingdom is intriguing, and I can’t wait to (hopefully?) learn more about what happened there in the series’ next book.

Cluess is an author I instantly loved as soon as I read A Shadow Bright and Burningand I’m excited to see what she’ll do with this series, which is so much broader in scope in terms of characters and size of the world than her previous series. (Though, I have to admit I wouldn’t mind watching these dragons face off with the monsters from Kingdom on Fire.)

It’s the perfect sort of immersive fantasy to help us escape from, well….everything, these days. And you’ll enjoy every page of this ride.

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House of Dragons is available at local bookstores and major retailers now.