Highborn Ignius and their Chosen, Kathely, have spent their formative years working towards one goal: earn a spot on the prestigious Far Patrol for a chance to dedicate their lives to serving and protecting the great dragon city of Azenath. And even if the most likely dragon/human team of their cohort did not take an unnecessary risk and lose the biggest test, Ignius and Kathely were still among the strongest contenders for the role. Their hard work paid off and soon, the dragon and their Chosen find themselves trying to adapt to the harsh climate of the extreme northern border.
Their training has hardly begun, however, when Kathely gets threatened by rebels as they and Ignius perform their first solo patrol. Dragon and human are both taken captive by a shifty lower class of dragon; they are desperate to get away. Before they can escape, however, Ignius starts to discover that being a low class dragon does not mean they are low intelligence. In fact, Ignius, Kathley, and their friends discover whole worlds are literally hidden under their feet. More damningly, the group finds out that the life of comfort and ease that they have enjoyed as members of the elite class has come entirely at the expense of the health and well being of all the lower classes. But trouble is brewing at the highest echelons of Ignius’ society. A battle for what is right is imminent and Ignius must figure out which side they are on.
Far Patrol is a drama/fantasy story by author Alex Powell. It features a world where dragons and humans coexist. Their world is rigidly segregated into upper-, mid-, and lower classes for the dragons, with similarly distinct (though less obviously named) layers. The events unfold largely from Ignius’ point of view, albeit in third person. This was one of the few delights of the book: being challenged with central characters that were born and raised on the powerful side of classism and who make a slow, painful journey towards “classism is wrong” (yet don’t seem to quite fully land there).
I chose this title for the Under the Rainbow Week in our Reading Challenge Month because it seemed to have strong nonbinary representation. I also liked the idea of an MC caught between two sides and even the title felt like a promise of some dangerous adventure. Unfortunately, the queer aspects of the story felt largely performative. For example, all the dragons are consistently referred to with gender neutral they/them pronouns. At one point, Ignius themself reads someone the riot act when Kathely gets misgendered. Clearly, pronouns are supposed to matter. But then filial relationships, even among dragons, default to gendered pronouns—even for non-reproductive-specific ones like “aunt.” The author’s choice to mix and mingle gendered/non-gendered pronouns for the one species that I interpreted as truly being nonbinary was grating. To say nothing of the fact that Kathely, though the so-called Chosen One of our MCs, occupies the literary space of “sidekick.”
The world building is pretty simple. Powell thoroughly hammers home the idea that this society is completely dependent upon its three-tiered social structure. And the most interesting thing about doing that is that Ignius is clearly on the elites’ side at first. Even after Ignius gets repeated confirmation that the elites truly do take horrible advantage of the not-elites, Ignius has doubts that outright rebellion will resolve anything. That moment of “violence doesn’t solve violence” feels like a flash in the pan compared to what the bulk of the story really felt like to me: a series of vignettes to showcase all the different supporting cast members as they mull about the three or four major things that happen in the story.
One of my few positive reading experiences in this book was watching the elites and the non-elites work their respective “teams” with mirrored construction. That is to say, first the reader follows along as Ignius discovers the extent to which the elites are staging a complete take over of society. Next, the reader follows Ignius as they discover how the not-elites plan to challenge the elites. Both sides have charismatic leaders who make “rousing” speeches. All the while, Ignius gets more and more convinced the elites are dead wrong and the not-elites are not entirely right.
Overall, I just found this story difficult to get into. I was excited for a queer cast, but the execution made the nod to nonbinary and asexual identities feel cheap. The story itself is a pretty basic premise of us versus them told through the lens of extreme classism. There are some nice elements of story crafting, but that was hard to appreciate with so many poorly distinguished scene changes and a cumbersomely large cast of supporting characters.
Note: This story is not a romance
This review is part of our 2021 Reading Challenge Month for Under the Rainbow Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous paperback book bundle from Carina Press (you can see the details on the bundle in our Prize Preview post)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing Grand Prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! And don’t forget if you read along with your own challenge book this week, you can earn ten contest entries for writing a mini-review on our wrap up post on Friday! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Under the Rainbow Week here.