Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dragon Lovers (anthology, book) by Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Karen Harbaugh, and Barbara Samuel

The four stories in this anthology have in common dragon-related plots and romance (in half the stories, one of the lovers is a dragon). The first story deals with a virgin princess kidnapped by a dragon rider. The second story has a knight sent to slay a dragon, who is later persuaded to defend the dragon and the dragon's granddaughter. The third story deals with a Dutchwoman in 17th century Japan who meets a dragon and a samurai while considering her options for the future. The fourth and final story deals with a recently widowed young woman who moves to Santa Fe, where she finds new love and a house with a dragon that needs protecting.

This anthology will probably appeal not only to readers who enjoy romance, but also to readers who love fantasy and dragons. Personally, I preferred the first and third stories (Beverley's and Harbaugh's), but I don't really think any of the stories in this anthology were very weak.

"The Dragon and the Virgin Princess" by Jo Beverley

Princess Rozlinda is an SVP, a Sacrificial Virgin Princess. At the age of 19, Rozlinda has been the SVP for 7 years, and she's thoroughly tired of it. However, she's also very aware of her duty and cares about the fate of her people. Rozlinda's only job is to stay a virgin until either the next girl in line to be SVP starts menstruating or a dragon comes along from the neighboring country. The previous SVP selfishly risked war with the neighboring country by convincing the man she loved to kill the dragon when it came for her, thereby allowing him to win her hand in marriage when he would not otherwise have been able to. Rozlinda is determined to do things correctly this time around, even when the dragon comes earlier than expected. Unfortunately, the man riding the dragon has come to marry Rozlinda, whether she wants him or not, and take her back to his country in the hopes of using her to keep dragonkind alive.

My summary of this story is hideous, but I tried not to give too much away - that can be hard to do, sometimes, with short stories. I found this story to be pretty impressive, and I'd probably recommend it even to fans of dragons who don't normally read romance. For the most part, I enjoyed the characters, and, although there is certainly romance, the story involving the dragons was interesting enough by itself. I'd love to read something else featuring this country full of dragons and their riders.

Beverley writes from both Rozlinda and Rouar's perspectives (Rouar is the dragon rider mentioned in my summary), something that I always appreciate when I'm reading a romance. I liked Rouar and enjoyed reading about the conflict between his budding feelings for Rozlinda and his duty to his country's dragons. I felt that Rozlinda was a bit uneven, though. She's a strange mix of personality traits: she's resilient, willing to make the best of things, and kind, but she's also spoiled. She's much more willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good than her words and thoughts at the beginning of the story led me to believe.

  • The Blue Sword (book) by Robin McKinley - Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who goes to live in Damar, a desert country with secretive, magical Hillfolk. One night, Harry is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk king, who has Harry trained to fight and ride a horse because of a vision he has of the future. Damar feels like a country similar to Ruoar's, and Ruoar and Corlath are also similar, with their closed-mouthedness and sympathy for the resilient women they have taken. Although I wouldn't call this book a romance, there is a bit of romance between Corlath and Harry.
  • Dragonflight (book) by Anne McCaffrey - This is the first book in McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. Pern is a planet with occasional falls of silver "threads" that wreak destruction and destroy all life they touch - the best way people have found to protect themselves is to rely on dragonfire. Thread hasn't fallen in a long time, and people have started to doubt the continued usefulness of dragons and their riders, but one dragonrider named F'lar believes that Thread will soon fall again. With that in mind, he has gone looking for a woman strong enough to bond with and ride a queen dragon. Those who'd like something else with dragonriders and a bit of romance might like this book.
"The Dragon and the Dark Knight" by Mary Jo Putney

Kenrick is a skilled knight whose frightening face and status as an illegitimate son keeps him from getting what he most desires: land, a wife, and children. At the moment, it's peaceful in England, so he and his squire are having a hard time finding a good place to stay during the winter. When Kenrick hears about a baron looking for a champion willing to kill a troublesome dragon, he decides to check things out. If Kenrick is able to kill the dragon, he'll be given the fief of Tregarth as a reward. However, Kenrick discovers that the dragon isn't as bloodthirsty and dangerous as he was led to believe, and he also begins to fall in love with the dragon's part human, part dragon granddaughter.

This story also wasn't bad, although I think non-romance lovers/readers may not enjoy this story as much as the first, since I don't think the overall non-romantic story is as strong. I did really like Kenrick, though. He's a nice guy with a strong sense of honor. Putney makes no attempt to make Kenrick's life seem glamorous - at the beginning of the story, it's clear that he's living hand-to-mouth and has been much-battered by his life as a knight. However, Putney also doesn't make things as gory as she could, either. Kenrick does kill a few people, but since this isn't a dark story by any means, the deaths aren't described in any stomach-churning way.

Ariane (the dragon's granddaughter) was... okay. It wasn't that I disliked her, it's just that I didn't find her very interesting. The romance between her and Kenrick didn't really grab me either. Although Kenrick tells her that he loves her because of her part dragon blood and not despite it, and Ariane is pleased by this news, I'm not sure I would've been as pleased by Kenrick's words if I were her. I think I might've liked it more if he had also talked about the things he liked about her as a person. There's not much that he could've said, though, since he doesn't really know much about her, other than that she can heal and knows how to cook. One of the drawbacks of romantic short stories, and one of the main reasons why I don't often read romance anthologies, is that there often isn't enough time for the hero and heroine to get to know each other and fall in love with each other for reasons that aren't shallow. Kenrick likes Ariane's dragon abilities and her kindness towards him, but I needed more than that for the romance to grab me.

  • Born in Sin (book) by Kinley MacGregor - Caledonia MacNeely has no choice but to marry the infamous and frightening "Lord Sin" - she is under orders by the English King, and the fate of her clan depends upon her obedience. Although Sin has spent years not caring what others have thought of him, he gradually finds himself longing to be the kind of man Callie would want to stay with. Those who'd like another story with action, romance, and a main male character with a frightening appearance and reputation might like this book.
  • You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. All Aisling wants to do is deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Instead, she comes across a dead woman and a mysterious and sexy man. The man (who is also a dragon), named Drake, disappears, along with the statue. Aisling has to prove she didn't kill the woman and recover the statue, all while dealing with the revelation that she is a Guardian (basically, the Keeper of the Gates to Hell). Those who'd like something else with shapeshifting dragons and a bit of romance might like this book and series.
  • Tapestry (anthology, book) by Lynn Kurland, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Madeline Hunter, Karen Marie Moning - The stories in this romantic anthology actually have less in common with each other than the stories in Dragon Lovers - each story has a tapestry in it, and that's pretty much it as far as their similarities go. Those who enjoyed Putney's story may like Kenyon's story, which stars a male shapeshifting dragon.
"Anna and the King of Dragons" by Karen Harbaugh
This story takes place in Japan in 1650. Anna Vanderzee is a Dutch physician whose parents have recently died. She is uncertain what to do with her life: it's unlikely she'll be able to practice medicine in either the Netherlands or in Japan, she's not sure she'd even fit in in the Netherlands anymore, and prostitution, the one job she'd have the best chance of getting in Japan, is not something she wants to do. While she's considering her position, Anna slips and almost falls and drowns in a pond, but she's saved by a dragon. The dragon lets her go after Anna promises to bring him books. On her way back to the inn she's staying at, Anna is attacked by bandits and saved by a samurai named Nakagawa Toshiro. Anna keeps her promise to the dragon and asks for Nakagawa's help again. Although the two are falling for each other, Anna doesn't see how it would ever be acceptable to Nakagawa's family for them to marry, and she prepares to go back to the Netherlands. However, there is more to Nakagawa than she realizes.
Of all the stories in this book, I think this one is my favorite. Part of the reason for that is the setting - I have to say, I'm a sucker for all things Japanese. Most of what I know about Japan, Japanese history, the Japanese language, and Japanese customs I learned from the vast amounts of anime I've watched and manga I've read, so I can't really say with any kind of authority how accurate Harbaugh's depiction of Japan is. She uses a little bit of Japanese in the story, especially in the beginning - the phrases and words I recognize seem to be correct, although, as I just mentioned, I'm no expert. Harbaugh also includes a few details of Japanese history and customs. One of my favorite bits in the story is the part where Nakagawa manages to get Anna better clothing from an innkeeper by talking about her status, knowing that the innkeeper is eavesdropping.
In addition to liking the setting, I also enjoyed Anna and Nakagawa. It's too bad more of the story wasn't written from Nakagawa's perspective. Overall, I thought Anna and Nakagawa made a nice couple, and Nakagawa's family had a pretty good reason to accept Anna as Nakagawa's wife.
  • The Fox Woman (book) by Kij Johnson - This book tells the story of the intertwining fates of two families, one of humans and the other of foxes. When Kaya no Yoshifuji fails to receive an appointment in the Emperor's court, he decides to relocate to a rural estate with his wife and son. However, a family of foxes has their den there. Yoshifuji becomes obsessed with the foxes, and Kitsune (one of the foxes) falls in love with Yoshifuji. Those who'd like another story with romance (albeit strange and doomed), shapeshifters, and a Japanese setting might like this book.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This is the first book in Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms Series. Yoko is an ordinary high school student who's been having dreams that foreshadow great danger to her. Then one day at school, Yoko is saved by a young man and ends up getting taken to a strange and frightening world where she is in constant danger from demons and can trust no one. Those who'd like another story set in Japan (or, at least, a place with connections to Japan) starring a red-haired girl who doesn't quite fit in and a shape-shifting guy who protects her might like this book. The translation is a little clunky, but try to stick with it - the story gets better. I'm looking forward to reading the rest eventually.
"Dragon Feathers" by Barbara Samuel
Penny Freeman, widowed before she's even turned 30, has come to Santa Fe to learn to weave from Maria Libelula, a famous weaver who only takes 7 students at a time. Before beginning classes, she manages to find a house that seems perfect for her and that, for some reason, is much cheaper than it should be. In and near her new home, she discovers what appears to be pink-dyed peacock feathers. Her teacher's son, Joaquin, tells her not to show the feathers to anyone, and, sure enough, some of the people who've seen the feathers try to break into Penny's new home. Gradually, Penny discovers where the feathers came from and what her new role is to be. If she chooses to accept her role as a guardian, she can also choose to have Joaquin, the first man she's found attractive since her husband died, as her consort.
I'm not really sure how I felt about this story. Of all the stories in this anthology, it felt the least dragon-related - Penny doesn't see the dragon until late in the story, and, in appearance, the dragon seems like it might be more related to birds than anything lizard-like in appearance. Also, for all that Joaquin says Penny is in danger, it feels like a very sedate and slow-paced story. Mostly Penny floats along, adjusting to life in Santa Fe and life as a widow, learning about the feathers, and thinking about Joaquin. It felt a little like a set-up for a full-length novel that would have a great deal more action (and more romance). I didn't think it was a bad story, but, in my opinion, it was either the weakest or second weakest in the anthology.
  • Summon the Keeper (book) by Tanya Huff - This is the first book in Huff's Keeper's Chronicles series. Claire Hansen, the Keeper, and her talking cat Austin are on their way to answer a summons when they get caught in a rainstorm and decide to stay at the Elysian Fields Guesthouse. The next morning, Claire finds out that she is the new owner of the guesthouse and has therefore been saddled with all its quirkiness and problems. There's a French ghost who'd like to get into Claire's pants, a hunky Boy Scout of a caretaker named Dean, a woman who's been sleeping in one of the rooms for decades, and a hole to Hell in the furnace room. Those who'd like something else with a house that holds a strange secret, a woman guardian, and a bit of romance might like this book.

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