A stolen artefact.
An ancient dragon.
One man’s final chance.
Life-long thief Apollo Tamlin has been marked for execution. When the mage Queen Surayo offers him a pardon, he doesn’t ask questions – any task she has is better than a walk to the gallows.
Succeed, and not only will it preserve peace in his homeland, but Apollo can rebuild the life he’s ruined.
Sent to a distant continent to feed a stolen artefact to an ancient and powerful dragon spirit sounds simple, but things quickly start going wrong. His companions are not what they seem, the dragon would rather eat him, and the artefact displays its own magic – throwing the entire mission into peril.
There has been a growing trend with the self-published SFF market of late where authors will often release a prequel novella or short story to their main series (usually for free!) just after or near enough simultaneously with the first main books release. I like this trend, please keep it up self-pubbed authors! I am aware that words are hard (trust me, I’m often found bashing my head into my keyboard trying to come up with names for some made-up shite of mine) but I’m so appreciative of what these achieve. They show off the authors own writing skills, as these novellas are polished, tight, thrilling and memorable, built to hook the reader in and set the scene for the main series long haul. The Citrine Key, prequel novella to SPFBO 7 finalist The Iron Crown, by fellow Final Fantasy lover L.L. MacRae, is a perfect example of how to do the prequel novella right!
Set in a world of magical royalty, dragons & spirits (all dragons are spirits, but not all spirits are dragons) and mysteries just waiting to be discovered, The Citrine Key introduces us to Apollo, a thief who accepts a dangerous mission to avoid execution. The story takes place primarily on a snowy, blizzard ravaged mountain range and, for those of you that know my tastes in fiction, I find that atmosphere in stories can elevate a story from good to great and MacRae really nails the feeling of biting cold winds, blinding swirling snowstorms and the deep-bone freeze. You really feel like you are in the thick of it with the characters, and this is also especially true when the absolutely epic & extravagant magical moments happen (which are the kind of vast moments you would expect to see at the end of story not in the middle).
There are three central characters, all of who are interesting, well-rounded and all have full satisfying arcs, although we are firmly in the head of Apollo. He is my favourite type of protagonist; flawed but likeable, charming, selfless and selfish (his intrusive thoughts really help to add the layers to him) and with a deep personal history. I liked the dynamic between these three, as they argue, laugh and fight their way through to the thrilling end.
The Citrine Key is fantastical in every sense of the word. The magic feels ethereal and otherworldly, the dragon spirits are unique, memorable and enchanting, and the snippets of the larger world we do get are begging to be explored further. If you are looking to get into The Dragon Spirits series, you must start with The Citrine Key. Although it is its own self-contained tale, it’s so much fun that you’d be silly to pass up on it. If you go to the authors website (https://llmacrae.com/) you can sign up to her newsletter and receive a digital copy totally free! And what’s better than a free fantasy story? A free fantasy story that’s bloody great, just like this one!