Posts Tagged: burke

Fantasy review: ‘Dragon’s Bride’ by H L Burke

November 7, 2015 Review 0

It’s always a sad moment, reaching the end of a series and waving farewell to favourite characters. Will the author produce a final triumphant flourish, or will it fall a bit flat? Will obstacles be swept aside too easily, or will everything make perfect sense? Fortunately, the author got pretty much everything right in this. Ewan and Shannon’s story was tied up in a very satisfactory way, bad guys got their comeuppance, good guys got their reward and even the time travel worked out very neatly.

Let’s start with Ewan and Shannon. I was always very pleased that Ewan embraced his dragon-ness, and Shannon was cool with it, too, even as they both had good reasons for wanting him to be human again. It seemed likely to me that the end of the story would have to be bittersweet, with one or both of them having to make a sacrifice. But the author cleverly produced an ending that satisfied on every level. I can’t say more than that without giving things away, but I loved the final resolution. Perfect.

The sub-plots were less interesting to me. Ryan’s chase round to find his son felt suspiciously like filler, Shannon’s pregnancy issues likewise, and Acacia and Will seemed to be there solely as plot devices. The resolution of Riley, in particular, felt very contrived, and the rebellion never really rose to the occasion. In the end, I’d have traded most of this for more time with Ewan and Martin.

It’s tricky to do time travel plots without getting tied in knots or leaving plot holes big enough for a dragon to fly through. There were some nice twists here that took me by surprise, but it all fell into place very logically. The fae were well-drawn, but I did find their magical powers a bit arm-wavingly convenient at times. How shall we get out of this particularly desperate mess? Oh, look, here’s someone with the power to just poof! make it all go away.

In the end, though, this story was all about Ewan and Shannon, and the resolution of it was note perfect, although the sub-plot niggles keep it to four stars.


Fantasy romance review: ‘Dragon’s Rival’ by H L Burke

September 17, 2015 Review 0

This is the third in the series The Dragon and the Scholar, and the story is blossoming now. It’s focused more on the personal elements than the background plot, but I found this more interesting anyway. The on-again off-again sort-of romance between dragon-prince Ewan and scholar Shannon has reached a critical point, and Ewan’s rival Ryan, another prince, is there waiting for Shannon when things fall apart. Everything depends on Ewan: will he admit his love for Shannon or deny it all to give her a chance of happiness with Ryan?

I’m not generally a big fan of characters who say and do things to protect another character ‘for their own good’. It’s presumptuous and disrespectful not to allow them to make their own decision. But in this case, Ewan has been enchanted (or cursed, perhaps) by an evil sorceress, now dead, to take the form of a dragon permanently. If Shannon chooses to be with Ewan, she gives up all possibility of a sexual relationship and children. There’s also the problem that dragons live longer lives than humans. That’s a heavy price to pay, and Ewan’s actions to push her towards Ryan are very understandable in that context. The tragedy of Ewan’s situation adds a darker shade to an otherwise rather lighthearted story.

The background plot is nothing wildly original, just the usual conspiracy to take over the kingdom. One of the weaknesses of this series, to my mind, is that the characters fall too neatly into the good guy/bad guy boxes. I really like a hero with foibles, or a villain who has some redeeming qualities. That’s how people are in real life, and it makes the story so much more realistic if the characters aren’t simple black or white, but have at least some hint of grey about them. But that’s a personal preference, not a major criticism.

Fortunately, the background shenanigans never come close to overwhelming the story, which focuses firmly on the two principle characters and their troubled romance. A reader would have to have a heart of stone not to root for these two likable characters to get back together, and the author elegantly contrives to ensure that Ryan isn’t left too broken-hearted, either. Very nicely done. Four stars.


Fantasy Review: ‘Dragon’s Debt’ by H L Burke

May 6, 2015 Review 1

This is the second in the Dragon and the Scholar quartet, and follows on with the story of Ewan (the dragon) and Shannon (the scholar). The first book ended with the two of them flying off into the sunset, but it was a long way from being a happy ending, what with him being a dragon and all.

So naturally, after a pleasant interlude together, things start to go downhill. There’s trouble afoot in the Kingdom of Westshire, which borders our heroes’ own kingdom of Regone. Strange beasties have been snatching young girls from their homes, and Ryan, the heir to the Westshire throne, is set on putting an end to it. Into the midst of this comes Ewan’s brother Edmond, now King of Regone, bent on wooing Ryan’s sister Brighid. Her father, King Riley, isn’t at all happy about it. When things come to a duel, Ewan and Shannon are summoned to help sort things out.

You’ll have guessed from this that the setting is very much the standard pseudo-medieval affair, where men run kingdoms, save maidens from monsters and wave swords around, while women wear pretty frocks and strive to be beautiful. Shannon, fortunately, is the exception to the rule, a trouser-wearing, intelligent, oh-I’ll-do-it-myself competent female, and hooray for that. It’s a pity that Brighid is much more the conventional princess-figure, behaving emotionally and being kidnapped so that the men (and Shannon) can rescue her.

So this is no trope-busting feminist treatise, but it’s a very enjoyable, light read for those moments when you just can’t face another heavyweight grimdark monster of a book. The plot isn’t complex but there’s enough action to keep things bubbling along nicely. And the ending sees a rather neat solution to the political problem by Edmond, which I liked very much.

There’s also a darker, more tragic tone beneath the froth. Ewan and Shannon love each other, but they have the slight problem that Ewan is a dragon. A human under a dragon enchantment, sure, but still a dragon. Ewan’s dilemma is that he wants Shannon to stay with him, but he feels it’s morally wrong to ask, since he can’t offer her any of the sort of things a woman might expect from a lover. He won’t even tell her how he feels, because it might sway her. This is a very real tragedy for both of them, and Ewan’s handling of the situation is truly heroic. A large part of the attraction in this series, for me, is finding out how this situation gets resolved. If indeed it does. My money at the moment is on a happy ending, but it would be brave indeed to take a different route.

An entertaining, light read. Recommended for those in the mood for a traditional-style fantasy, with plenty of humour. Bonus points for the strong ending, and not shying away from the dragon/human problem. Four stars.


Fantasy Review: ‘Dragon’s Curse’ by H L Burke

March 16, 2015 Review 0

I’m a sucker for a dragon story, and this one is a little different from the usual. It starts as a charming little fairy-tale, where the girl in the dragon’s lair is a spirited and smart young scholar rather than a helpless princess, and the dragon isn’t quite what he seems, either. The two strike up an unusual friendship. This part of the book was lovely, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The second half is far more predictable, and rather more uneven.

Here’s the premise: Shannon is a talented young scholar, determined to take a job as healer in the small kingdom of Regone for the perfectly logical reason that she’s the best person to heal the king from injuries sustained while fighting dragons. While there, she is pursued by the amorous knight Sir Roderick, who offers to slay a newly-arrived dragon to win her hand. To avoid this dreadful fate, she sets off to find the dragon herself, and discovers a character surprisingly interested in her books and palace gossip.

The sparky conversations between dragon and scholar are a highlight of the book, but by the midpoint, things become more conventional, and there’s a great deal of dashing about avoiding the machinations of the villain, and in general trying to stay alive. The characters devolve into stereotypical good guys and bad guys at this point. It was depressing that the spirited and smart (female) scholar took so little part in this, and it was left to men with swords, spears and crossbows to sort things out. Most of this followed conventional lines, apart from one little twist near the end, where the villain takes an unexpected action.

I would have liked a bit more detail about the setting, which was very much a generic fantasy kingdom, with the usual array of inns, forests, craggy mountains for dragons, farms and so on, not to mention possibly the worst-guarded palace ever. I’m astonished the king wasn’t assassinated in an early chapter, the way characters walked insouciantly in and out, without seeing so much as a laundrymaid, never mind a guard. I also wondered why, when dire consequences would occur if a certain character dies within a matter of hours, the other characters didn’t just go and hide until the deadline had passed.

This is a light, quick read which is entertaining for those not looking for great depth. It’s billed as YA, but it would work perfectly well for MG too. The perfunctory nature of the world-building and the rather simplistic characters would normally make it a three star affair, but the pleasure of the first half, the charm of the two main characters and the avoidance of a too-simple happy ending bump it up to four stars for me.