Tour’s Books Blog

September 6, 2009

Book Review: What a Dragon Should Know by G. A. Aiken

  • Title: What a Dragon Should Know
  • Author: G. A. Aiken/Shelly Laurenston
  • Type: Epic fantasy romance
  • Genre: alternate world/dragon shifter
  • Sub-genre: conniving liars meet their match
  • My Grade: A- (4.5*)
  • Rating: NC-17
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold

G. A. Aiken is Shelly Laurenston’s alter ego for her dragon fantasy series.  In the first two books, Dragon Actually and About a Dragon, the author builds a world where various species of dragon exist side-by-side with humans, who are often seen by the dragons as a food source.  The dragons rarely trouble themselves with short lived humans, but somehow the off-spring of  Queen Riannon of the Southland fire dragons, keep finding human mates, much to their father Bercelek’s annoyance!   She’s added an interim story of the parents of this mob – Queen Riannon and Bercelek contained within Dragon Actually, and Everlasting Bad Boys had a great novella, Can’t Get Enough, about Ailean the Wicked and Shalin the Innocent, the grandparents of the dragons in the Dragon Kin series, written as Shelly Laurenston.  I love Laurenston’s humor and strong female leads and the males who love them for being exactly what they are, tough as nails schemers and fighters.  What a Dragon Should Know is book 3 in her Dragon Kin series and it’s far more of an epic fantasy than a romance.  Regardless, it’s another complex, laugh out loud story of wildly eccentric dragons and the equally eccentric mates they choose.

Dragon Actually is the story of Fearghus the Destroyer, the reclusive eldest son of Queen Rhiannon and her fearsome spouse, Bercelek, and Annwyl the Bloody, the illegitimate daughter of the late King of  Garbhán Isle.  It’s a match made in heaven – or possibly hell, but either way, the fire dragon siblings are willing to help fight her enemies – when they aren’t fighting each other. Later,   Morfyd, a daughter of Riannon and sister to Fearghus who lives mostly as a human witch, becomes Annwyl’s closest advisor.  Next was About a Dragon – a book that remains one of my top fantasy adventure romances of all time.  Briec is intelligent and arrogant beyond belief, and he’s huge, but he meets his match in the disdainful witch Talaith.  Both couples have prominent parts in What a Dragon Should Know, so it really helps to read those two books first.  Not only is this a very extensive family, there are a number of meddling gods involved in their lives as well.  At nearly 500 tightly packed pages, this is her longest and most complex story so far, weaving together elements from the first two books and adding in multiple storylines involving both old and new characters – human, dragon and gods.

Feel like you need a diagram?  Yup, you do.  I wish there was one at the front of the book for reference.  Just keeping all the names straight can be challenging.  There are no Fred’s or Dave’s here, so you need your wits about you just to keep who belongs where straight.  The world is peopled with different tribes, kingdoms, religions, gods, and peoples, as well as different kinds of dragons, often each others mortal enemies, and each has its own story.  This isn’t light reading.  You’ll need to focus on keeping things straight.  The habit of the two lead characters, Gwenvael the Handsome (or The Whore of the South, or The Defiler, and numerous other sobriquets referring to his sexual promiscuity) and The Beast, Dagmar, the only daughter, and most feared off-spring of Sigmar, The Reinholdt of the Northlands, to exaggerate – or lie outright – adds to the confusion and makes paying close attention essential.

Dagmar has made a place for herself in a warrior society where women are protected from the world, but not their men.  Dagmar sees it more as being strangled and shut out.  But she’s also learned the value of information and the power that confers.  She wields her knowledge like sword, but with far more subtlety.  When one of her viscous sisters-in-law try starting trouble between her and her brothers or father, Dagmar lets slip some bit of information about something they’ve done that gets the men mad and distracts them.  It helps that she’s had a talent for breeding and training the finest war dogs in the north, making her very valuable to her father – and everyone a bit afraid as the dogs are lyal to her.  When Dagmar learns of a plot against Annwyl and her unborn twins, she sends word south.  Of all the people to choose as her emissary, Annwyl asks Gwenvael, the vain, tricky, womanizing practical joker of her husband’s dragon clan to go north and speak with The Beast.  He’s also the closest thing to a diplomat they have.  But he’s still a conniving schemer and trouble maker.  That’s OK, Dagmar is too.

Dagmar is infuriated when Gwenvael shows up at the gate to her father’s stronghold in dragon form the rolls around laughing when she’s introduced as The Beast.  She refuses to tell him what she’s learned about the plot against Annwyl and her babes.  Gwenvael is many things, but he is genuinely fond of Annwyl and wants nothing to hurt her or her soon to be born twins.  He’s miscalculated badly with Dagmar, but he can fix that.  Two cunning, shrewd, canny, schemers begin vying for one-up-manship in a game that  isn’t really a game.  They can admire each others lies and plots knowing them for what they are, but both recognize the stakes – and their mutual attraction.

Dagmar and Gwenvael manage to find enough middle ground for Dagmar to get what she wants – the promise of troops from the Southern Plains to aid her father in the coming war, and a way for her to get out of the blasted Northlands.  She doesn’t just have information about who is after Annwyl, but knowledge of a tunnel system they plan to use to get to her. Gwenvael knows when he’s being played, but if it gets what he wants, he’ll deal.  Besides, he’s certain he can seduce Dagmar while he’s at it.  Gwenvael has discovered the haughty Dagmar has a few interesting quirks – including the fact that she ‘likes to watch’. Ahem.

There are monks who aren’t really monks, dragons scheming against dragons and humans against humans, and gods with plans of their own.  In the end, Dagmar comes thru for her father and he gets the aid he needs – and then some.  And Dagmar might think Gwenvael a depraved slag, but she has a few kinks herself so they suit each other.  This isn’t all about Gwenvael and Dagmar.  Annwyl and Izzy, Breic’s stepdaughter, have significant roles, as does Morfyd.  And judging by the ending there will be a fourth book and possibly a fifth.

Watching these two liars extraordinaire alternately give up tidbits and bluff, as they play a game that both enjoy – stirring up trouble among family members and enemies alike, then find themselves enmeshed in a relationship that takes some strange turns, is fun.  Aiken/Laurenston tells her story with verve, humor, lots of violence and plenty of colorful characters.  On the downside, you have so many larger than life personalities in one book, it can feel like you’re being inundated at very boisterous party – it’s tough to follow.  Some will complain that her characters or so over-the-top they become cartoonish, which is close to the truth at times, but they are saved by a depth that’s lacking in so many books.  It takes some effort to get used to both her writing style and the odd quirks of her characters and their interactions.  Often the reader is left mentally filling in the blanks or trying to work out the subtext of remarks.  Once you’re into the story, it works, but it isn’t easy reading or a smooth narrative style, and don’t try to skim, because you’ll miss key nuance and lose the thread of one of the many subplots.

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