Monday, April 11, 2016

Dragon Rose (Christine Pope)

Dragon Rose
(The Tales of the Latter Kingdoms series, Book 2)
Christine Pope
Dark Valentine Press
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: To the rest of the world, magic is a fading memory relegated to fairy tales and scholars' tomes. To the people of Lirinsholme, living under the curse of the Dragon Lord, it's all too real. The immortal beast never shows his face, but every several years he demands a bride be sent to his high castle... girls who are never seen again, their fate a dark mystery. Defiance brings fierce reprisals, as the charred stones of the old town square remind the people daily. Thus it has been for five hundred years.
The day the red banner flew over the castle, the call for a new bride, Rhianne never expected to answer that call - but when her best friend's name is drawn, she steps forward in the terrified girl's place. It only makes sense. Rhianne's unladylike pursuit of painting has cost the family reputation dearly, and her friend's engaged while Rhianne remains unattached, never having even a beau to consider. And it's not like people know the other girls are dead. What Rhianne finds at the Dragon Lord's castle is not at all what she expects, but just as she almost starts to feel at home with the castle and her reclusive husband, the curse threatens to destroy everything.
Though part of the Tales of the Latter Kingdoms series, each book is a stand-alone story.

REVIEW: A fantasy retelling of the oft-repeated Beauty and the Beast, it starts out decently enough, if somewhat light. Rhianne does her best to honor her family, even using her taboo art to keep her father's pottery business afloat, though she has enough backbone to refuse her mother's wishes that she marry an unpleasant older man - a marriage as much about improving the family's lot as removing Rhianne from the bride lottery. But the story starts meandering even before her friend's name is drawn, and once it gets to the castle it grows even more pointless and repetitive. The problem, in addition to Rhianne taking on distinctly Mary Sue-ish traits (beautiful, talented, humble, her only flaw being that she doesn't understand just how beautiful and talented she really is), is that too much is withheld, giving Rhianne literally nothing to do for most of the story. Her husband Theran refuses to trust her with any intimacy, the staff refuse to inform her about the previous brides, and the entire nature of the curse and the riddle of its unraveling is evidently taboo... plus Rhianne isn't exactly pushing for answers. Instead, she begins a slow, plodding dance with Theran, winning a scrap of affection only to fumble it away, while she fills narrative space with pointless thoughts and repetitious speculations and yearnings. Since Rhianne's so perfect, it's a given she'll be the object of affection from any man, particularly the main love interest, but Theran is such a remote and broody figure I had trouble buying her affection for him as anything other than a requirement of the formula. Any actual plot progression, minimal as it is, comes in the form of prophetic dreams - many of which Rhianne forgets after having them (which makes the many pages devoted to them wasted space, as she only belatedly acts on them), and which she herself denies the importance of despite having been told that her dreams have prophetic meaning. By the final quarter of the book, the author must rush to cram in a crisis and a resolution, but by then I'd long since given up on caring. Also, as a minor nitpick, from pages 119-120 of the eBook version: "Portraits were serious matters, after all, a way of immortalizing oneself, and, I thought, giving one's ancestors some idea as to what their forbears looked like." Not only is this kind of rambling, comma-choked sentence typical of the narrative, but clearly Pope meant descendants when she wrote ancestors, unless the inhabitants of Lirinsholme are caught in a temporal Moebius strip. As I mentioned, it's a minor issue, but it points to overall carelessness, particularly when the sentence is just more word-fluff to boost page count. The fact that I was bored enough for it to get on my nerves so much is an indication of overall lack of engagement with the story itself, which is why it didn't even rate a mere Okay rating; I get cranky when I'm bored into nitpicking. It only earned the extra half-star for decent formatting, which I've read enough poorly-done eBooks to appreciate.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Last Dragonlord (Joanne Bertin) - My Review
The Fire Rose (Mercedes Lackey) - My Review
Uprooted (Naomi Novik) - My Review

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