Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stealing the Dragon by Mell Eight

stealingthedragonTitle: Stealing the Dragon
Author: Mell Eight
Cover Artist: London Burden
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Publisher Buy Link Stealing the Dragon
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Length: 27k words

Stealing from a dragon's hoard is never a bright idea, but stealing from a baby dragon's hoard can lead to tears, sniffles, and smoke in the middle of a busy marketplace.

Jerney, a witch who does work for a well-known thieves' guild, knows exactly who's to blame for the brazen theft. With no other choice in the matter, he quickly becomes entangled in trying to help the baby dragon. What he doesn't expect is that his own heart might get stolen in the process.

The promised baby dragon really is a baby—he might look like he’s a seventeen year old human (probably the author’s signal that “yes, I know he’s too young for a sexy story”) but in dragon years that makes him more like a bright four year old. Tori’s adorable, and part of his problem is that even people who know better treat him the way his human form looks, not in an age-appropriate manner.

Uncle Bast, for instance, (that’s Prince Bast to everyone else) thinks Tori’s mature enough to handle an investigation, but if it’s anything more complicated than “who ate the cookies?” he’s really, really wrong. Sending him to the market alone is a lot like sending him to play in traffic.

The traffic in this world is horse-drawn, with a medieval feeling level of technology and a developed magic system. Practitioners absolutely have to be literate and attain levels of skill as they can master them. That’s where we get Jerney, who has to teach himself as he can from others’ magic books. He’s valuable to his wicked uncle/stepfather because he can be sold, and once his mother is out of the way, he will be. Jerney’s an enterprising child and becomes an enterprising young man---he finds a way out of the horrid fate wicked uncle plans for him, his younger brother, and infant half-sister, and comes to prosper. We see enough of his childhood and youth to know his world and circumstances, and he’s in his mid-twenties before he meets the baby dragon. Jerney’s a likeable character, he’s moves in the reality of his world without being hardened by it, and his family feeling is very strong.

When an impetuous thief steals one of Tori’s treasures, we’re set off on a rollicking adventure where the theft must be sorted and wider plots revealed and solved. Both characters’ strengths and weakness contribute to the plot, and the resolution is very satisfactory. Good fun!

Both characters have POV scenes, and the voices are dramatically different, which I thought was good characterization and also part of my unease with this story. Jerney’s voice matures as he goes from a bright six year old to a competent young man, and Tori sounds like the kid he is. So far so good. Then mix the sexual element in here, and it gets a little squicky.

Let me emphasize that there is absolutely no contact between the characters aside from an over-exuberant kiss that Jerney shuts down immediately because it is inappropriate, the action of a child who is learning how to behave and has skipped ahead in his own timeline. Everybody’s clear on this, even Tori, eventually. But the issue has been raised, and the inescapable conclusion is that Jerney’s going to be celibate for the next thirty years, and I don’t even want these ideas floating around in a story where one of the characters comes across as four years old.

There are a couple of secondary relationships in the background. Tori’s much older brother Nyle has a male lover, and their story appears in another book in this series which I plan to read. Jerney’s younger brother is now a young man, and there’s a hint of someone’s interest in him. That was probably meant to be reassuring that the other party wouldn’t do something inappropriate with a child, but it’s actually sort of creepy in an “I’ve been waiting for you to grow up” way.

So where my problems lie with this story is that it’s trying to be everything to everyone. It doesn’t work as a romance, because Tori isn’t a romantic candidate—he’s a child, and not even saying there’s enough lag time to let him grow up will make this work for me. It does work on the adventure/fantasy level, which I enjoyed very much. A version of this story that had all sexual/romantic elements excised (except please leave Nyle and Leon as an established couple) I would put into any eleven year old’s hand. But Tori is just too child-like to make his actual age a consideration. YMMV. 3 marbles

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