Who doesn't love dragons? This wave of Elves sets gives us three. Zonya the Fire Dragon is the largest of the three - is bigger better, or is she just blowing smoke?
The front of the box shows Zonya the Fire Dragon helping Azari and Emily roast marshmallows, with artwork of the rest of the elves along the side, with a very friendly looking white and gold dragon peering in from the upper right corner. The back of the box shows different scenes from the cave as well as Emily and Azari flying on Zonya onto their next adventure. It looks like Zonya is able to have two riders at a time.
Inside the box we find four numbered bags, two instruction booklets, Zonya's head and a small sticker sheet. There were two dragon wings in my box, which means I didn't win the dragon wing lottery this time around.
First mini doll is Azari, who comes in the same outfit as she did in the Starlight Inn, and like in the Starlight Inn, she does not have a printed piece indicating her elemental power (fire) like Naida does for water. I find this odd, because there is a printed piece for the elemental power in the set, but it's used later on the dragon and not for Azari. The other mini doll is Emily Jones, in the same outfit that we saw with the baby Wind Dragon (still loving those red tennis shoes). Her main accessory is a stick with marshmallow for roasting, though considering the size of the marshmallow I think it's big enough for Emily, Azari and Zonya!
The first bag is dedicated to making the torso of the dragon, with some great use of pieces that have studs on two sides to make the base for the seating area. Some strategic use of stickers add some great detailing to the torso. I really like how LEGO has been using stickers of late that has the background being the same colour as the brick to which they're being applied. For me at least it takes away some of that "sticker anxiety" about making sure they're put on perfectly.
The second bag continues the dragon, starting with the tail, which uses two new flame the pieces to embellish the end of the tail with jewels used for the other portions. Again the grey ball joint pieces are used, and while the look isn't overly jarring, it really is time for LEGO to start making these in other colours, particularly since they're so useful. Merina the Water Dragon used stickers to embellish her tail, and I like that stickers aren't used for this portion on Zonya.
Details on the legs include the three studs flat pieces with points, some clear 1x1 round pieces on the front legs and again some strategic application of stickers for the feet. I really like how the designer has not relied on stickers for details on this set. Zonya's head, like Merina's, is a great molded piece that has some terrific markings that are indicative of the fire elemental that she represents. There are some great horns for the top of her head and I was very relieved that they did not use a ridiculous hair bow for decoration, instead replacing it with the same jewel that embellishes the wings. Speaking of the wings, they are quite impressive and serve to finish off a great model. A gold stud holds onto Zonya's tongue (or breath representation, depending on how you view it).
The only minor quibble I have about the dragon in comparison to Merina is that you have a much larger range of motion and posability with Merina's wings, whereas with Zonya's they just hinge up and down. I think that's understandable considering the size difference in the wings, and that Zonya's wings are attached in two places, and Merina's only one. I suspect that's necessary for a dragon Zonya's size.
The third bag starts the surrounding landscaping, starting with the campfire that Zonya helps to start. I like the use of a floral piece in the fire itself. Next comes the shadows fountain, with a hidden sliding feature to allow the water to turn from green to blue. What a great play feature! The shadow foundation has green and black features to it, giving it an ominous feel. Good thing Emily can change the water from green to blue!
The fourth bag builds the titular Lava Cave. Since there was an article on Brickset some time ago, I was happy to see a few 2x4 bricks used in building the base of the cave - actually, for the moss beds that are found in the back of the cave.
One thing I've noticed in this wave of sets - lavender parts look more like magenta parts in the instruction booklets. It was something that had me searching for the wrong colour the first couple times. I'm surprised they couldn't get the shading a little better in the booklets.
After building the moss beds, the sliding mechanism of the lava fall comes next - I love the taller translucent pieces in bright orange - the box art doesn't really convey that very well. It's interesting that the pull mechanism is also decorated with a printed piece of the fire elemental magic - perhaps that's because only Azari can use it? Regardless, I still find it puzzling that Azari doesn't get one of her own. I really enjoy when the designers build in the kinds of sliding features - it seems to be a regular feature in Friends and Elves sets. These mechanisms work very smoothly; I don't think that will ever get old, especially when built into the story like they are here.
As an example of the detail I love to see in the Elves sets, I'll highlight the little purple toadstools by the stepping stones on the lava river to gain access to the cave. Something that wasn't necessary for the set, but a great use of detailing. Same for the crystal rockfall on the other side next to the lava fall.
I'm starting to sound redundant when it comes to this wave of Elves sets, but I think this is a great set, especially for the price ($39.99, 441 pieces). I really loved Merina, but would tend to agree with the commenter who said her body was a little on the short side, especially now that I've built Zonya. I think the dragon is terrific, even if you can't rotate her wings. Stickers are used sparingly but to great effect - I don't think any of the stickers other than the ones on the dragon are necessary, but I think the stickers on these dragons have been some of the best use of stickers that I've seen in a LEGO set.
The Shadow Fountain is great and I love the premise of turning poisoned water to pure water, and the lava cave, with its sliding mechanism and details of crystal rockfalls and toadstools are great. I really like how the Elves sets tie into an overall story, and this set offers lots of opportunity to reenact that story plus encourage children to make up stories of their own.