Book Review: Kraken Rider Z by David Estes and Dyrk Ashton
If you’re a fan of magic, sea monsters and dragons, Kraken Rider Z will be a great choice for you!
David Estes and Dyrk Ashton are both successful authors in their own rights, and with good reason. David’s written a whole heap of great books, including his Fatemarked series, and Dyrk’s made waves with his Paternus trilogy (which I’ve read, loved and reviewed).
Now they’ve teamed up to release the kraken! Or at least a book about one. Kraken Rider Z is being published by Wraithmarked Creative, a fantasy publisher formed in 2020. I was thrilled to get an ARC, so I can give you my thoughts ahead of its release this month.
The Great Level(-gain)ers
The book is a progression fantasy; like in an RPG, characters increase their skills through training and combat. Literal levelling up is often a feature, and that’s the case here. Many of the characters hone their abilities as students at the citadel academy. Oh, and some of them are dragons. Humans and dragons at the academy can form a lifelong bond which increases their power and grows as they train. The dragons speak, and are equals in the partnership.
Friendships and Hardships from J to Zee
Being a dragon rider is what Zee Tarrow (one of the main characters) dreams of. However, fate has other plans for him. As a child, Zee discovers a strange sea creature which has recently hatched. He cares for it and names it Jessup, and the pair quickly form a friendship.
Befriending a creature of unknown origin in a world where the ocean is a hideously dangerous place doesn’t go down well with everyone. Complications occur quickly, and then the timeline moves forward by a decade, when Jessup is very much not a baby anymore.
What makes the book shine is the bond that develops between Zee and Jessup. They’re outsiders in almost every way, and both have incredibly difficult journeys through their childhoods. Their support for each other gets them through a huge number of the struggles they face. Jessup can also talk, and he’s actually a point-of-view character.
A Cracking (Kraken) Magic System
Considering the progression fantasy subgenre, it should come as no surprise that Zee and Jessup find they can use powers like dragons and their riders. Their growing abilities are a delight, both for them and the reader.
The authors have opted for a hard magic system, where there are well-defined rules and clear costs for using abilities. They’ve put a lot of thought into how everything works. For the most part, it’s a joy to read about. There were plenty of times where I thought Wow, that’s really neat!
However, there was a bit too much detail in places for my liking; this applied to the class system for dragon knights as well. Most of it was great, but there were a few times where I just wanted the story to move along more quickly.
Stakes and Conflict
My other issue with the book was that I would have liked the main antagonistic force to be weaved into the story a little bit more, a little bit sooner. It arrives brilliantly in the last quarter, and it does take centre stage on occasion before that. Those are some of the best parts in the book. Adding a few more of them in the middle would have kept the main threat nipping at the reader’s mind while Zee and Jessup explored their abilities.
Having said that, there’s plenty of conflict and tension in other ways before things ramp up for the conclusion. The kraken and his rider are constantly struggling to be accepted in a world where they’re often seen as oddities at best, and monstrous at worst. They have some powerful allies who are willing to fight their corner, but there are many in authority who want to see them fail, or even die.
Any Good Twists?
Oh yes. Yes there are. From early on, the story rarely went in the direction I was expecting. The rug gets pulled from under our heroes’ feet/tentacles on a regular basis, and I can’t think of any instances where this was unsatisfying. I won’t say any more about the surprises here, because spoilers are 100% unfun with a heaped tablespoon of annoying. (Bake for half an hour on a temperature of your choosing, garnish with righteous indignation and serve.)
Should You Read It?
Absolutely! The issues I mentioned were small, and didn’t stop me loving the story. I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Kraken Rider Z to anyone who’ll listen. Check it out on Goodreads, or order your copy on Amazon (UK, US). Thanks for a fantastic read, David and Dyrk!