by Gena Showalter, fantasy (2005)
HQN, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-77057-X
Heart Of The Dragon introduces Gena Showalter's kingdom of Atlantis, although true to this author's unfortunate tendency to skimp on details of her world-building, I'm hard-pressed to describe it. All I know from this story is that the dragons, which exist pretty much in human form most of the time in this story so they could easily be cannibal hobbits for all I know or care, have a kingdom surrounded by some kind of mists where anyone who stumbles into the kingdom will be killed by the Guardian of Mist with extreme prejudice.
Grace Carlyle's brother is looking for Atlantis when he goes MIA somewhere in South America. Most sensibly indeed, Grace decides to hire a guide to bring her to his brother. This guide runs off with her things, leaving her in the middle of wilderness with no bearings as to which way is the way to go. Romance heroines can be so amusing when they leave the house without parental supervision, I tell you. She finds herself in the dragons' kingdom. The Guardian and the boss of all dragons, Darius en Kragin, knows that he's supposed to kill Grace without hesitation but he gratefully uses the medallion she is wearing (which belongs to his master - how did she get it?) as an excuse to keep her alive a little longer. He wants to shag her, naturally, but he will realize that she has more uses to him when he discovers that her brother may be involved in a plot that can spell the ruin of Atlantis and therefore any possibility of future books based on this place. This will not do!
Darius has a very heartbreaking background - he is forced to kill anyone who stumbles into the Mists even by accident because he knows from painful experience that any outsider can lead other outsiders into Atlantis that resulted in all kinds of carnage and mayhem. Killing such interlopers takes its toll on him and he starts out in this story an emotionless killing machine. It changes when he meets Grace - he for the first time can see colors, taste his food, and more, so he wants to keep her around a little longer. Darius is also a most politically incorrect hero - some of the things he does here may enrage genteel readers - but then again, given his background, I don't expect him to be a perfect gentleman. Grace has her silly moments, but on the whole she is a pretty sensible heroine who can hold her own against Darius pretty well. She is a nice heroine because she doesn't have any contrived neuroses about sex or men in general.
The first half of the story when Grace is with Darius in Atlantis makes a very entertaining story as the two main characters generate plenty of electricity. There are many old-school captive-fantasy elements to their unorthodox courtship that may not appeal to all readers, but these elements make sense given the situation and Darius' character. It is when the second half to the story moves to Grace's world that things become very dull. The exotic setting is gone and the romance between Darius and Grace start to come off like a typical boilerplate paranormal romance affair. Grace starts turning into a disappointing heroine who has to rely on Darius more and more even as the story becomes increasingly fixated on scenes heavy with lust or sex at the expense of plot and character development. All that build-up on Darius' angst leads to a contrived and convenient resolution that makes me cringe.
Gena Showalter is like an author with Attention Deficit Disorder or something here. This story is building up towards something grand and then she blows it by moving the story to a boring setting and focus on sex and lust while throwing aside all that work she put into building up her characters. Therefore, I start out enjoying myself but end up being most disappointed in Heart Of The Dragon.
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