I will admit, if the story has a dragon at it, I will seriously consider whether to read it. (Talking animals & misunderstood teens on the cusp of adulthood as well, but a discussion of all my narrative kinks can wait for another day.) Suffice it to say, this was a dragon story that did not disappoint.
Written in a slight peasant dialogue that doesn't get in the way of the story, the narrative & magic unfolds like a blend of Patricia McKillip (the creepy bits) and Robin McKinley (the floaty, not-quite explained way her magic just happens, along with the creepy/threatening foreshadowing and complicated family relationships) as Marni, our heroine, learns all the different sides of herself and decides what and who she'll be, at least for now.
YA (depending on how adult your YA is)/teen, themes of offscreen medieval violence, repressed/denied sexuality & some strong male come-ons but nothing graphic, hard choices about self & family, and learning that everyone makes mistakes masquerading as choices that time reveals later to not be that wise. Not all-evil monsters, an interesting & ambiguous dragon, wonderful magic, not all-noble humans, and if the ending felt a bit rushed in places, I was satisfied with the overall thrust of the story, which includes themes of how to decide (or not) about romantic love, and how to thrash through the decision of whether choosing yourself & who you'll become can really include doing something for somebody else, instead of the instinct screaming inside you.
Passes the Bechdel test for several interesting female side characters along with the heroine, all doing interesting things and having their own life stories. I would have liked a bit more discussion/drama around the twist at the end & the theme of other people making decisions for the heroine & the way she reacts, because I worry that younger readers won't get the subtle emotional point about forgiveness and sacrifice & the good intentions in trying without it-- thus 4 stars & not 5.
Standalone novel, downloaded from Google Play in epub format to my Nook HD+.