Review: Brightest Gold by Olivia Sitter

Brightest-GoldRating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Everyone knows that a person’s face lights up when they are with that special someone. For the dragon Jorrah, there is a literal glow. This beautiful light is not just a fleeting phenomenon, but one that actually imbues tokens of affection. Jorrah has spent their life trying to collect as many of these treasures as possible. When they discover that tokens freely given burn brightest of all, they actively cultivate relationships with humans.

One special relationship with a swordsman named Fadil gave them one of their most prized possessions—a collar imbued with the deep love Fadil felt for Jorrah. Not only that, but Jorrah shared their first kiss with Fadil and learned the power of such displays. Yet they knew staying with Fadil would not be an option. Long-lived dragons cannot hope to stay in one place forever. Not even for one that can freely change their shape at will.

As Jorrah’s chest of treasured tokens grows, they yearn to settle down in a proper cave and bask in the glowing glory of all the treasures. To do that, they need to find a safe haven. Preferably one with humans close by because Jorrah enjoys being among them. Preferably town where the citizenry aren’t prejudiced against mythical beings like dragons.

When Jorrah comes across a town that seems to have it all, however, their new friends urge them to get rid of a local nuisance: a vampire. If Jorrah wants to live in peace, they must dispose of the vampire. Yet the closer they get to this vampire, the more Jorrah’s resolve wavers. With the townsfolk getting antsy about a predator in their midst and Jorrah’s friends anxious to see their enemy dealt with, Jorrah knows they must take action…but will they be able to overcome the strange siren call of this vampire when the time comes?

This is such an interesting read! While I learned through the course of the book that Jorrah is (I think?) a non-binary character, I love how subtly this is worked into the fabric of the story. There is no great big stand-offish declaration. Jorrah is just Jorrah; as a shape-shifting dragon, they can assume the mantle of any sex they please and Jorrah does so to achieve their aims. Truth be told, it wasn’t until the very end of the book that I found myself actually realizing that Jorrah represented a gender fluid/non-binary type character. This is largely due to the first-person narration, but I just loved how something that can be so defining in some aspects of real life is an utter nonissue in this fantasy book.

Moving on to the content itself, the first chunk of the book is written in lyrical prose. It flows with rich description without being weighed down by itself—no mean feat, if you ask me. Especially when the first chapters are simply there to establish Jorrah as a character, there are some beautifully rendered passages. For example, here is Jorrah waxing poetic about the daily exchange of goods between two side characters who are attracted to one another:

A girl with hair the color of raw earth traded a basket of eggs for a loaf of bread each day. She handed the basket over to a girl with hair of flax, who would accept it and press a wrapped bundle into her hands. It was a careful, slow exchange, and I marveled at the glow that grew when they were in each other’s presence. They mirrored the ritual in the evenings, returning the basket and cloth to the other with the same measured glances.

The care in Jorrah’s description sets the tone for the character—they are someone who notices little things and treasures them. We learn that Jorrah is not just out to get things. Jorrah explains that things are nothing without emotion to imbue them, and that when those things are freely given, they are the most precious and brightly glowing. I loved watching Jorrah with their gentleness react and interact with humans. They make friends along the way and are constantly reminiscing about the tokens they have collected. I don’t know, I guess I just like how sweetly melancholy this character is. This is driven home by the interlude with Fadil.

As I read through Fadil and Jorrah (who has assumed an attractive human male form and calls themself Chisisi), I set myself up for the one true pairing of the story. And it’s true, we watch these two basically fall in love. I loved the sense of mystery I got from Fadil—we learn just enough about him to flesh him out (he teaches people how to sword fight; his elder brothers disapprove of him courting Chisisi). I loved watching how a kiss given to Chisisi is blindingly bright. All these signals made me think this was The One. This was not to be, yet the Fadil character still lingers in the story and ties into the main pairing.

Ultimately, we learn that Jorrah is seeking a place to settle down. While we get to watch them work towards that goal, I found that after the Fadil line ended, the story felt less tightly knit. With Fadil out of the picture, I was constantly looking for who might be The One for Jorrah. Perhaps not the author’s intent, but we know from the character themself that they want to sort of settle down. There is one other character, by the name of Mo, that sort of gave me hope this might be The One. I take no pride in admitting I thought Mo was an odd choice because he is, for all intents and purposes, a crusty old man—but one with whom Jorrah had an easy rapport. That is, Mo is someone Jorrah would likely have enjoyed spending even just a brief part of their life with.

All the expectation that Jorrah would find someone—and a male at that—was thrown for a loop when the vampire character appears. The vampire Alafaire appears early in the book, a chance meeting. Initially, not a character to whom I would have paid much attention. However, Alafaire appears in several of the towns Jorrah travels to in the book, so there’s no denying she figures into the plot. The pivotal scene where she and Jorrah come to a sort of mutual understanding was hard for me to really get, however.

The one disappointment is the late introduction of a unicorn and the power he holds over the some of the principle characters. It was probably in the last couple dozen of pages that I learned this mythical creature also features in the pantheon of beasts in this book. The existence of dragons, vampires, were beasts and their relationship to one another and to the human world is slowly, reasonably meted out throughout the story. Having this unicorn crash the part at the tail end was sort of confusing, yet the reader gets the clear impression the unicorn is vital to one of the main characters.

Regardless of this last-minute blip, there is a surprisingly sweet twist at the end of the story—one that I enjoyed because it challenged my expectations of romance and gender and non-binary things (I confess, I am no expert in non-binary anything, but I wholly support people being who they want to be). If you like a lushly written work that’s not overwrought, if you’re interested in a story featuring mythical creatures, if you’re interested in reading a story starring a non binary character as the lead character, this would be a great book.

camille sig

Comments

  1. This does sound intriguing. Thanks for your review, Camille.

    • Yeah, it was super interesting! I liked how natural everything flowed (I fantasize about writing The Great American  Novel and I’d do it in such a way that you never know what gender the “hero” is…but invariably wonder how that would even be possible). The prose is sweet, Jorrah is sweeter, like totally innocent? If you want something a little off beat but with pretty good writing and interesting characters, this would be a good book!

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