I love reading novels set in different times and places which is probably why I’m such a huge fan of Steampunk, science fiction, and fantasy. Dragonfly Warrior, Jay Noel’s first novel from 4 Wing Press, is a solid and enjoyable story set in an alternate Steampunk Asia.
Prince Kanze Zenjiro (a.k.a. Zen) has become an exceptional warrior at a very young age. The son of Lord Hideaki, he was raised with privileges reserved for royalty, yet will not hesitate to risk his own life to defend his brother soldiers in battle. Possessing a power referred to as Ishen, this ability literally makes him superhuman for short periods of time. Meanwhile, Iberia is poised to attack Xia and Zen’s country of Nihon and has the technology to do so. Fearing for the safety of his country, Lord Hideaki (soon to be King Hideaki) determines that to stop the Iberian invasion, they must unite Nihon and Xia. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to find a mythical sword called the Sky Blade. Revered by both their nations, it is thought that the mere appearance of the sword will create a formidable alliance.
Zen, being pure of heart and mind, volunteers for the mission and heads out in hopes of saving his nation. Given a bauble that will help guide him, Zen starts off on his first journey away from home. He meets and, eventually, teams up with Enapay, a gambler and airship captain with a somewhat dark past, and Neva, a former soldier who is on a desperate mission to rescue her son from a notorious criminal. While Zen attempts to fulfill his quest, back home his father proceeds to annex the surrounding nations in a bid to takeover Xia with or without the sword.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought the action sequences were very well done. I especially liked the characters of Enapay and Neva. They were dynamic and flawed, which is a good thing. Neva was especially well thought out as her headstrong personality was both a strength and a weakness. Enapay was a riot watching him go from lowlife street gambler to potential savior of his home town. Unfortunately, our hero Zen was the least interesting character. He could do no wrong, and even though his flaw was supposed to be arrogance, it came off as self-confidence and he never paid a price for his supposed flaw like Neva did. This made him boring and predictable. The kid never lost a fight except for once, and you knew he was going to get out of it. I really wanted to see him get his ass kicked for the first time in his life just to see how he would react. (If you’re used to winning, losing can have a profound impact.) There was also a continuity problem at the end where Zen talks about being stripped of his royalty by his father and sent on this quest, when, in fact, he volunteered and his father gave him his blessing.
The quest for the Sky Blade virtually disappears when Zen decides to help Neva save her son. A noble cause, but isn’t getting the one object that can save your country of greater importance? Even if it’s a lie his father told him, Zen still believed it. It would have been nice to see Zen have some sort of angst over what to do rather than take the easy way out and do whatever the bauble directed him to do. At some point, Zen needed to remove, lose, or destroy the bauble in order to take control over his own destiny and deal with the repercussions.
It’s quite possible that Mr. Noel has something like that planned in future novels about Zen and his quest, since I believe that this is a series. Overall, the novel shows a lot of promise and creativity.