Book Review: Given

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: GivenGiven by Nandi Taylor
Published by Wattpad Books on January 21st 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance
Pages: 352
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Source: NetGalley

"The captivating worldbuilding of magical lands and well-paced plot and character development combined with intriguing twists will have readers looking forward to more. " - Kirkus Reviews
A subversive fantasy-romance steeped in West-African and Caribbean traditions.
Yenni has never been this far from home. With only her wits, her strength and her sacred runelore, the fierce Yirba warrior princess is alone in the Empire of Cresh. It’s a land filled with strange magics and even stranger people—many of whom mistrust anyone who’s different. But Yenni will prove herself, and find a cure for her father’s wasting illness. She will not fail.
No one warned her about the dragons. Especially not about him.
Yes, there is something powerful and compelling about the violet-black dragon known as Weysh. In human form he’s muscular, beautiful—and completely infuriating. What kind of arrogant creature claims a stranger as his Given; as his destined mate? Yenni is no man’s—or dragon’s—plaything. But other magics must be at work here, because Weysh might just be her best hope at finding the answers she seeks.
Only now Yenni can’t tell if she’s fighting her attraction to a dragon…or fighting fate itself.

I really wanted to like Given by Nandi Taylor. The cover for the novel is absolutely gorgeous. Plus, it sounded like a more diverse take on Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon, a book I really enjoyed! Furthermore, the summary for Given promises a grand adventure with Caribbean and West African roots with tribal princess Yenni Ajani at the helm of Given–fighting against racism, strange magics, cultures, and dragons–in a race against time to save her father from a mysterious disease known as wither rot. Imagine my surprise when I realized Given was very little like its description and was instead mainly a poorly developed romance that happened to take place in a magic academy setting with very little exposition given–pardon the pun–and absolutely zero likable characters. It was honestly a struggle for me to get past 18% of Given and it was through sheer force of will that I made it to 52%. The only saving graces in the novel for me were the systems of magic, world-building, and the interesting idea of wither rot.


“I will gain entrance to these Creshen’s academy. I’m top of my class, I speak five languages, and I am princess of the Yirba. I will not fail.”


The novel begins in the Moonrise Isles, the home of Yenni Aja-Nifemi ka Yirba, daughter of the chief-clan, making her a veritable princess of her tribe. Given hurls a ton of fantastical terms at us to breathe life into the tribe and its islands, and it might have worked, if it weren’t for the fact that as soon as we are introduced to this life and its terms, Yenni Ajani, as she prefers to be called, immediately leaves it. And sadly, everything else in Given occurs just as instantaneously, and as a result, it is difficult to determine what is happening in what feels like one giant event dump or to even care.


Author Taylor tries to set up Yenni Anaji as an intelligent, kind-hearted, and strong-willed warrior princess in very little exposition. We are given so little actual time and description to get to know the characters and the world around them that the author relies on telling us how we should actually perceive the characters . But sadly, instead of the trope the author is obviously going for of a warrior princess with a heart of gold, what she manages to create is a very privileged character who isn’t very likable.


“Back home she didn’t have much use for money. If she needed something she asked her mother for it, and more often than not things were gifted to her.”

But even worse than Yenni Anaji is the man/dragon she’s supposed to fall for–Weysh. In dragon form, Weysh smells Yenni’s sent the first time and marks her as his Given, or soulmate thing that’s never really explained, but is expected to somehow understood by both the reader and foreigner Yenni Anaji, who has never actually encountered a dragon in her life. Immediately entranced by her scent and the idea of actually having a Given, Weysh literally doesn’t even bother to learn Yenni Anaji’s name or anything remotely about her. Instead, he immediately proposes marriage and informs her that she should have his dragon baby. On other occasions, he swoops down in dragon form and carries her off without her consent. How charming.


“‘Sweet,’ Weysh said patiently, ‘I’m not some breeding stud you can cajole into plowing a mare. Carmenna is not my match.’ He held her eyes with his own. ‘You are.’’


Given tells us that Weysh is actually a great guy/dragon and that he treated all of his past many female interests–the novel makes sure to emphasize how desired he is by the general female population–and his family really well. But we never see the character in any of these relationships because he unceremoniously dumps his ex, Carmenna, as soon as he smells Yenni Anaji for the first time. I find it absolutely unbelievable that Yenni Anaji could ever develop feelings for the dangerously immature Weysh, who really seems to have no redeeming qualities except that he cannot speak in dragon form.


“Weysh furrowed his brow, confused. ‘So I should simply leave her be?’
‘If that’s what she wants.’
‘But why? How would that endear me to her?
Zui threw a quick, fond glance at Harth. ‘Because respecting a woman’s wishes is one of the most seductive things a man can do.’
Weysh shook his head. It seemed incredibly counterproductive, but everything else he’d tried so far had ended in disaster.”

Given also beats readers over the head with the fact that dragons do not have any feelings for humans when in their dragon form. However, Given contradicts this at literally every turn. In fact, the very first meeting between Weysh and Yenni-Anaji, he drops out of the sky like “some overgrown demon hawk” (definitely not the best description of a dragon I’ve ever read), and unceremoniously licks her thigh because he is so overpowered by her scent and the fact that he’s found his Given. Ick. And if that weren’t bad enough, the rest of the cast of characters are all completely flat. Weysh’s dragon friends Harth and Zui are supposed to be great–patient and long suffering–I know because the author repeatedly tells me so–but they’re little more than hood ornaments on a nondriveable car.


Sadly, the dialogue of Given is no better than the painful romance or the constant telling rather than showing. There are innumerable nonsensical lines like, “We select only the fat of the meat, the best to take part in training here.” But what was worse was that literally almost every sentence that came out of Weysh’s mouth ended in “lovely.” His mother, his sister, his Given, girls on the street, were all referred to as “lovely.” I wish I had kept a running tally of how many times it was said. Given clearly could have benefited from some more editing.


Despite its issues, Given does a great job of establishing not only its magical systems and its laws, but also its lore. These were the main reasons I gave the book a full star. Author Taylor sets up believable and various magical systems–the Runelore of Yenni Ajani’s home and the more ritualistic Creshen magic. She even establishes that there is a false stereotype for Runelore users–that they sacrifice infants and animals for their craft. It was interesting to see Yenni Ajani try to learn the Creshen way of magic and how it differed from her own. I did want her to succeed at finding a cure for her father’s mysterious wither-rot disease through the use of this new magic on a superficial level, but the novel didn’t let me get to know her father well enough to evoke any real sympathy for him or for his family.


The other thing that Given does fairly well is to establish some world-building and lore. The Moonrise Islands believe in the Sha gods and have a whole strict belief system built around it that actually sets Yenni-Ajani out on her quest in the first place. The Creshen people believe in totally different gods, such as Byen, the Kindly Watcher. Wyesh tells Yenni-Anaji the story of how dragonkind came to be, after of course, laughing at Yenni-Anaji’s own beliefs.


“In the beginning, Byen, the Kindly Watcher, was at war with Movay, Mistress of Demons. She sent her hell minions to destroy the world but was defeated by Byen and his true dragons. After that Byen gave ten percent of humanity the ability to transform into a lesser version of his sacred warriors, to defend the world should Movay’s demons return.”

I thought this was really interesting lore (it actually put me to mind of a simpler version of the lore in Book Review: The Rage of Dragons ), and I wondered if it would have anything to do with the wither-rot disease in the rest of Given. But that mild curiosity and the potential shown by both the magic systems and the world-building was just not enough to get me through the rest of Given. Based on the parts of Given I managed to get through, I feel that perhaps this novel would be better suited for younger audiences, such as intermediate readers, as it is not on the same level of other young adult fantasy novels, with believable romances, realistic dialogue, and developed  characters.

Book Review: Given - Blogging with Dragons

Posted January 17, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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