Friday, January 18, 2013

Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken

It was my birthday this past Wednesday so a relative has come to visit for the weekend. So I am pre-empting tonight's First Read Friday (pushing it to Monday) and sharing a book review I wrote this past summer for my Genre Fiction & Readers' Advisory class.

obligatory romance novel pecs!

     Title: Dragon Actually (Dragon Kin book #1)
     Author: G.A Aiken
     Publisher: Zebra Books (Kensington Publishing Corp.)
     Published: September 1, 2008 
     Number of Pages: 342
     Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance
     Date Read: June 2012

Dragon Actually actually contains two distinct stories, the novel length titular tale, Dragon Actually and a novella length companion tale titled Chains & Flames that have been combined into a single volume, the first in what is currently a series of six (with more on the way) called TheDragon Kin series.

Dragon Actually is the story of the relationship between an antisocial dragon called Fearghus the Destroyer, in a case of "Our Dragons are Different", he has a human self and his human self saves known a human female as Annwyl the Bloody (contextually iffy nickname wouldn't you say?), a Warrior-Princess on the run from the half-brother, the King of the land, who wants her dead. Fearghus takes on the role of protector (in his dragon form) and teacher (in his human form) to help prepare Annwyl for the fight against her brother King Lorcan so she will be capable of taking his head and his throne; that was supposed to be their arrangement, but neither one was counting on falling in love. 

Throughout Dragon Actually we're introduced to a small number of the multitude of members of Fearghus’s family, who will populate the rest of the series of course, including both of his parents, Queen Rhiannon and Bercelak the Great, her Consort and just a few of his siblings. Chains & Flames is the story of how Rhiannon and Bercelak came to be the strong, untied, mated pair with the large brood introduced in Dragon Actually. It chronicles the lowest point of then Princess Rhiannon’s lifelong battle with her mother Queen Addiena and how together with Bercelak and the love and support of his family, experiences she had previously never had, she was able to triumph over her mother to become Queen (the fact that she finally has someone to dominate her helps; she doesn't want to be in charge in every respect after all).

You know right off that since this is a romance novel (albeit a paranormal fantasy romance novel), the main focus of these stories is going to be on the main characters falling in love with one another and getting it on, and Aiken makes good on that expectation. The reader gets very invested in the outcomes of these romances because Aiken’s characters are fantastically developed. They are people (or dragons in people form if you want to get nuanced) that you want to know. They are very real and every single one of them is flawed and vulnerable; there are no perfect characters here. Aiken’s characters all for one reason or another have either chosen to or been unable to find, as Rhiannon says in Chains & Flames their ‘one true mate’ up until the time of the action in the stories. Sometimes to me the relationships in romances can feel very contrived and forced because the whole purpose is that the main characters are perfect for each other and will therefore end up together. Aiken’s relationships don’t feel forced, the circumstances don't feel contrived for one very important reason, the context of the world she has created.

The world in which Dragon Actually and Chains & Flames  takes place to me seems very reminiscent of medieval Europe, if you continue reading the series you'll encounter a region and people none to dissimilar from the vikings. There are multiple different regions and political systems in play and in conjunction with her romance plots Aiken focuses a great deal on the various political intrigues and interplays. The inciting action in both tales involves a fight between family members over the throne of a particular kingdom; the whole thing would not be out of place in an HBO series. It is this setting, when the characters are placed in it in their specific roles; the scenarios do not appear contrived and forced. Overall these books are honest about what they are; they don’t try and pretend to be something else to draw you in. It is very clear from the cover that you are getting a romance novel, but once you read the jacket descriptions and get into the books, you realise you’re getting not just romance but also complex fantasy for a very multi-layered story.

If you can’t tell yet, I absolutely adored the book, to the point that I went out and bought all six and I’m going to read every single one (still working on it, I've read the first 3, the rest are in the pile). My favourite part of the story shouldn't surprise you; it is the interaction between the characters, they are sarcastic and there is so much biting humour that it’s impossible not to laugh; it's like a full cast of dead pan snarkers. In the past when I’ve tried reading romance novels I was always turned off by the cheese factor of them, but that didn’t happen here, the fantasy setting and storylines caught my interest and held me, but the characters and their dysfunctionality and humour are what made me fall in love with the story.

Do you usually go for romance novels? If not have you ever been drawn into one? What drew you in?


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