The Dream Thief

Intimate Enemies

A Kiss at Midnight

The Last Mermaid

The Promise of Rain

A Rose in Winter

The Secret Swan

The Truelove Bride

Queen of Dragons
by Shana Abé
(Bantam Dell, $18, PG) ISBN 978-0-553-80528-4
I liked Queen of Dragons, the third book in what is turning into a long-running series. I liked it despite flaws which would normally have me running. Set in mid-eighteenth-century England, it includes some glaring anachronisms which even the novel's fantasy universe cannot explain away. The main characters do not always behave admirably. The non-romance plot is weak, and many questions remain unanswered. Worst of all, the book is not kind to the uninitiated. It probably makes more sense to readers who have already come across these shape-shifting drákon, a humanoid species capable of turning into both smoke and dragons. I should have tossed the book aside. And yet I didn't. I liked it. Abe's world-building is quite seductive. And then there's the prose. The beautiful, gracious and spell-binding prose.

Kimber Langford, Earl of Chasen, is the alpha male and titular head of the drakon of Darkfrith. Worried about the future of their species and about their relations with pure humans, these human-dragons have retreated into the large English estate where they live according rigorous laws. Kimber's sister, Lia has already fled this restrictive realm (her story is told in The Dream Thief), and her parents have abdicated their power to look for her (their story is told in The Smoke Thief). Now responsible for protecting his people, Kimber is discovering just how uneasy is the head that wears the crown. Among other things he has to learn more about the lost drakon tribe in Transylvania, and he must be prepared to marry their queen.

Princess Maricara has been the behind-the-scenes leader of Zaharen Yce since she was a child. Lately things have not been going well. The sanf inimici - drakon hunters of sorts - are gaining ground, and her own people are beginning to suspect her of bloodthirsty deeds. She heads for England to warn her betrothed, the one she has no intention of marrying.

Kimber only half listens to the warning. He is more interested in the messenger. Even if he were not attracted to Maricara, he would be set on making her his bride. She is one of the rare female drakon who can shift into both smoke and dragon. No wonder it takes a while for him to realize that she is as headstrong and as honorable, in short as alpha as he. By then, the dark forces have gathered, and Kimber and Maricara prepare to fight for their love and their kind.

Others have tried their hand at this familiar story of a powerful male who learns not to claim his bride but to acknowledge her as his true equal. Several have done a better job with the plotting and the characterization (Kimber fears his counselors a little too much to be a convincing leader and lover; Maricara, whose devotion and vulnerability remain obvious throughout, is more carefully drawn). Few, however, have drawn me in on the sheer magic of their words. Whether describing the movement of smoke, outlining the history of drakon in fairy-tale style or exploring inner feelings, their simple elegance enthralled me. And now I am determined to find out more about these mystical creatures and what their future holds. If that is not a strong recommendation, I couldn't say what is.

Mary Benn

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