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Given

by Nandi Taylor

Nandi Taylor’s Given garnered over a million reads on Wattpad before becoming one of the site’s first hard-copy releases. The novel bodes well for Wattpad’s expansion to traditional publishing: it’s fast-paced, nuanced, and presents a fresh fantastical world.

Told in alternating viewpoints between Yenni Ajani, the magically adept princess of the Yirba island people, and Weysh, an elite human-dragon shape-shifter, Given starts out with Yenni’s quest to enrol in a magical university in Cresh, a powerful colonizing city of light-skinned citizens. Yenni’s home culture is sophisticated, rich, and complex, but as a dark-skinned woman she is greeted in the new city by people wielding stereotypes and insulting assumptions. There is a moment where a city guard compliments Yenni, who is royalty, for being able to read, and in another scene a white woman asks to touch Yenni’s hair; these micro-aggressions neatly set up the colonial dynamic Yenni is thrown into.

Yenni has more to worry about than prejudiced Creshens. Not only is the city’s magic completely different to what she is used to, the dragon Weysh, an upperclassman at the university, confronts her with the news that she is his “Given” – a dragon concept of soulmates that means nothing to Yenni. It’s indicative of Taylor’s character development that readers eventually find themselves cheering for the unlikely match.

Taylor draws on genre conventions of the popular magical-school novel but enriches them with a socio-political backdrop. Mysterious forces align against Yenni and Weysh with increasingly dangerous stakes, and their respective family situations bring extra pressure and narrative interest. Taylor weaves most of her threads deftly, though the array of challenges facing Yenni and Weysh makes for a slightly bumpy structure where two similar climaxes happen back to back in order to tie up plot points.

By that time, though, readers are so thoroughly charmed by the princess and the dragon-man that few will mind what might seem like a slight pacing hiccup. The two characters, so different and yet so impressive, end the book poised for further adventures.