Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dragon's Lair by JB McDonald

Title: Dragon’s Lair
Author: JB McDonald
Cover Artist: BS Clay
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 82 pages/22,200 words

Being a demon is no fun at all. This doesn't particularly come as a surprise, but his constant escort and rarely seeing his lover does. When Ashe agreed to come to Katsu's land, he did so hoping to spend time with Katsu. Instead, he spends time locked within the palace grounds, ostracized as a monster. This will continue, he knows, until the princess Chieko is healed... or dies.

Dying looks like the greater possibility, and Katsu is already mourning his sister. Then something happens -- something terrible and wonderful. The ground trembles and opens up, and Katsu nearly falls through. At Ashe's greatest need, the dragon responds, saving Ashe's lover. If they can make it happen again, it might just save the princess's life -- and mean Ashe and Katsu can go home.

I’ve been reading through this “series” and while I’m enjoying the story, I am not so much enjoying the chunks being doled out at intervals. This section comes closest to having a plot arc that can stand on its own, but still very much feels as if it should be directly attached to the section that came before (Dragon Soul) and it doesn’t have a definitive ending, probably because it’s scheduled for release in a few months. I would be less grouchy about this if the publisher and the author were more upfront about the serialization but nowhere is this mentioned at either the publisher or author’s website, nor is correct reading order. Someone coming in cold is likely to flounder around, because none but the first section entirely stands on its own. This one is close, but the beginning is sketchy without the prior installment, and the ending is not exactly there.

When we left our intrepid medic and elf, they had just been notified of Katsu’s sister’s dire illness and summoned back to Katsu’s native land to heal her. A number of revelations regarding Katsu’s background were made, and they follow up here nicely interspersed with the story. He has a complicated relationship with his family and with the local culture, and even Katsu’s relationship with Ashe gets a bit messier because of where they are.

We hadn’t seen much of Katsu’s POV in prior installments, so it’s nice to get deeper into his head here—he’s the guy who makes grumpy into the new charming, and we can see a bit more of why. Now he’s the one who has a place, and Ashe is the outsider, although the dragon Ashe’s bonded to buys him some acceptance.

There are some great interplays between Ashe, Katsu, the dragon, and various figures from Katsu’s past. The queen, his mother, might as well be a dragon, but she has her reasons. Magic is thick on the ground here, and Ashe is the one who can manipulate it the most. Elves such as he have a Moran-given duty to recirculate the magic through the world, which is a special challenge when the jungles are oppressively full of magic. Even the dragon feels overstuffed with magic, to the point of growing fat with it.

I was delighted by how Katsu and Ashe supported one another in many ways, and how this spilled over to Princess Chieko, Katsu’s sister and the pregnant heir to the throne. Some elements of this were wrenching and dark, but even so, led into greater understanding between the couple.

A great many things that have been building through the series have come to fruition here. Several plot arcs combine to make the dénouement possible, and there’s where we are left. The definitive ending isn’t here, so we need to travel with Ashe and Katsu for at least one more installment for total satisfaction. 4 marbles

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