The Dream Thief
by Shana Abé, historical/fantasy (2007)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-58805-7
The Dream Thief revisits the communist shape-shifting dragon, sorry, drákon folks last seen in Shana Abé's The Smoke Thief. In this culture, females are never considered equals to the males so I hope you are in the mood for alpha males running rampant when you read this story. I do have to sigh, though, when Ms Abé doesn't even allow her drákon heroine to stand on equal ground to a human male. A human male!
If you have read the previous book, you will remember Zane, the human kiddie adopted by the heroine of the previous book. Here, he's grown up and looking ready to take on the mantle of alpha male, even he is very much aware that he doesn't fit in with the drákon community. Meanwhile, we revisit the diamond Draumr, lost in the depths of the Carpathian Mountains, which has the power to allow a human to control a drákon. Legend had it that a princess of their kind was once under the control of a human who possessed the diamond, and it was only her suicide that enabled her to be free of that man. In this story, Zane is charged to retrieve the Draumr. Going along for the ride is Lady Amalia Langford, a drákon lady who has visions of the future involving her, Zane, and the diamond.
My disappointment with Amalia is that she may be a drákon, but apart from this being an excuse for her to go "Ooh! I am psychic!" on me, she may as well be a mere human. She's a decent heroine for a familiar spunky lass stereotype, but I feel that the author could have done more with her. Zane behaves more like the drákon here, because "drákon" is a shorthand in this story for "brooding guy with a permanent sneer on his lips". Amalia and Zane could have been interesting characters, because both feel that they are different from and therefore don't fit in well with the people around them, but the author instead turns them into recognizable paranormal romance stereotypes. Even worse, their romance also follows the alpha male/weaker heroine script.
The predictability of the characters and their relationship undermines the story because these two characters will never deviate from the script long enough to deliver any suspense in the story. A central issue in this story is the possibility of Zane being driven by his own insecurities into using the Draumr to secure Amalia's affections, just like that man did to the poor drákon princess a long, long time ago. However, Amalia is already in love with Zane, et cetera, so it's not as if there is any need for Zane to work that hard in winning her over. Therefore, I can never believe that there is any possibility that Zane will have to use the Draumr. All that build-up toward that possibility, as a result, feels like smoke and mirrors rather than suspenseful storytelling. That is one opportunity to tell a gripping tale that the author has lost, there.
If the author has taken more risks with this story, if she has delivered instead of merely teased at the way this story could have been an unusual read, The Dream Thief would have become a much more memorable read. As it is, it's a well-written but typical story of another brooding emo hero and the wide-eyed heroine who adores him.
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