Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez
Sooooo close to being utterly fantastic. I mean, you have alternate Spain complete with Flamenco, toasted bread slathered with smoked olive oil (literally, like the maid character Ofelia is constantly feeding them charcuterie and bread), and toreador–I mean dragonadores. That’s right. Not bull fighters but fire-breathing dragons.
Zarela Zalvidar is the daughter of La Giralda– a dragonador arena owned by her famous dragonador father and her beloved flamenco mother. She does her best to carry on her mother’s dancing legacy, but she always feels unworthy.
Then one day, the unthinkable tragedy strikes, and Zarela is all that stands between obliteration of La Giralda and her family’s legacy and the anger of her town and the dragonador guild/Gremio.
She is desperate to find someone who can handle dragons, and finds Arturo, an ex dragonador who she forces to reluctantly train her in the dragonador traditions.
Meanwhile she has a friend who is a seamstress, a family friend offering to help, this world’s version of PETA trying to close down La Giralda because of cruelty to dragons, and an injured father to worry about.
She has no time for Arturo’s conflicted past, his disdain, and his icy demeanor. Although…she can’t help rising to the occasion every time he grimaces in her direction.
Zarela and Arturo are kind of fun. There’s quite alot of complicated emotions/ethics surrounding bullfighting/dragon fighting, and Ibanez comes up with the perfect solution for Zarela to save La Giralda.
On the other hand…the side characters other than Zarela and Arturo were just plot devices. The head of the Guild sure changed his views quickly when it was convenient, and the main bad person was just whackadoodle bad, like completely under a delusion that made the moral and emotional weight of the evil actions less (because it was just so crazy).
I wish we had more of Zarela’s friend doing things for herself and character development beyond just her interactions with Zarela. That said, Arturo was splendidly grumpy with a splendidly awful reason for holding himself back from his feelings.
I would read more by this author, hoping she can get more fully fleshed out side characters.