THE DRAGON'S LEGACY by Deborah A. Wolf is a fantasy epic of a kind I haven't had a chance to read in awhile. It's a massive world-building story that deals with the perspective of myriad individuals on a magical land that is far removed from our own. While the cultures have similarities to Bedouin and the old Chinese Empires, they are different enough to give you a sense of being transported into a wholly different world.
The primary character, though such is a misleading title, Sulema is a young woman who was raised among the Zeeranim as one of their own. Having ascended to adulthood, she finds herself given news which will change her world forever: that she is the daughter of Dragon King. Simultaneously, the world is dying all around them. Mothers give birth to less young, the people can bond with fewer great cats, and the Earth Dragon stirs fitfully like the Fenris Wolf preparing to awaken then devour the world.
For an apocalypse-based story, this is actually a fairly languidly paced book and that's not a criticism. We're slowly eased into understanding the ways of the Zeeranim as well as the civilizations alongside it. They're a bit more Fremen or Aiel than "realistic" nomadic people but that isn't a criticism since it's the prerogative of all fantasy authors to draw from the works before them. We also get ample perspectives of people who aren't "normally" the stars of this kind of story like the common people on the ground.
Magic is interwoven into the reality in a casual but effective way with bonding with animals, monsters, dreamwalking, shamanism, and more just another part of daily life in the world. I also like the petty feuds between families are given every bit as much gravity as the more epic struggles within. Class and race also play a subtle role in the story versus the more overt depiction in other books. Everyone wants to improve the lives of their children but the methods and restrictions on such are always influencing every interaction whether people who want to become shamans or who get conscripted into the military as magical cannon fodder.
My favorite storyline in the book is Sulema and her parents. As the titular Dragon's Legacy, she is a woman who is effectively taken from her culture to be made queen of the Dragon Empire while her father is still alive (and can consolidate her power). She believes this is a worthy "sacrifice" but is it? Especially as the system is designed to mold her into someone who bears little resemblance to her previous self. Yet, ironically, her very background makes her aware of this as well as her power in the system. The Dragon King's possessiveness and "love" for her mother is also creepy yet fascinating to read about.
Gender politics play an important but understated role in things. The warriors of the Zeeranim are women and their men are the ones who stay home to handle the homefront. This is a contrast to the expected roles of women in the Dragon Empire. I like these sorts of twists and turns as well as differences in expected behavior as they work well for the story's themes.
If I have any problems with the book, it's the fact it is a bit subdued in places. When dealing with a cast as large as this, it helps to have characters with big personalities. A lot of these characters are just trying to get by and thus tend to fade into the narrative. It's part of why Sulema is so enjoyable as she is anything but subdued. This is a book which requires a significant time investment and for you to pay close attention to, which just means that it's worth an investment from the reader to me.
I am anxious to read the sequel and think people who really want to get invested in their escapist fiction's background will love this book. It is really a book that transports you to a new universe and that's a rare thing even in fantasy.