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Review: Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

Summary: This is a companion book of sorts to Dragon’s Keep. Although it is set a few generations after the original, you can read Dragonswood without having read Dragon’s Keep (although there will be spoilers for the first book). In 1192, seventeen-year-old Tess lives in a small village on Wilde Island. With a father who beats her regularly, her life is bad enough already, but things get even worse when a witch hunter rides into town. Tess and her two friends discover that they were previously spotted entering Dragonswood, a refuge for dragons and fairies that is forbidden to humans. Accused of witchcraft, the trio find themselves on the run. Inexplicably, Tess finds herself being called to the heart of Dragonswood. Soon enough, her own quest for safety brings her into a web of political and magical intrigue that will determine the future of the kingdom.

Review:  Dragonswood opens with miscarriages, domestic abuse, witch hunts, and torture, making it clear from the start that Lee Carey will pull no punches, and that this is a pretty dark fantasy. In fact, there were times when mentions of dragons and fairies almost felt out of place in such a gritty, realistic setting, but the world of Wilde Island is pretty well developed overall.

This was definitely a gripping read; however, the novel seemed disjointed. The author juggles such diverse concepts such as dragons, fairy life, human political schemes, villains with tragic pasts, dragon-like human children, women’s rights, family issues, romance, and not to mention Tess’ own wants and needs. These are all interesting concepts, but it all felt like just too much for this book. In fact, the novel seemed to go in so many directions that I had trouble writing a summary.

Although Dragonswood had some plot twists I didn’t predict, there was one so blindingly obvious from early on that it was frustrating to me that Tess takes the bulk of the novel to figure out the truth. Those who have read Dragon’s Keep will definitely guess the twist quickly, but I imagine the average reader who didn’t read the first book will still catch on fast. There are times when it is enjoyable to know something that the main character does not. However, this was not one of them.

Tess starts out the book so downtrodden that you can’t help but cheer her on to come into her own. That she does, but there were many times I wanted to root for her more and feel pity for her less. Yes, it’s possible to do both at the same time, yet it is hard not to cringe when a character takes repeated physical or emotional mistreatment from others. I did enjoy the progression of the romance subplot as Tess slowly realizes that all men are not as cruel and ruthless as her blacksmith father.

In short: Dragonswood is an exciting fantasy read, but I still prefer the less-jumbled prequel, Dragon’s Keep. I still look forward to future books in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Something similar: For more adventures with dragons and royalty, try an old favorite of mine: The Two Princesses of Bamarre Gail Carson Levine. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope is another novel involving fairies and a historical setting.

Cover & Title: Dragonswood, of course, is a key part of the novel. The cover is pretty enough, but one does get tired of generic covers featuring semi-conscious girls in prom dresses.

Where I got the book: Shelves of the local library.


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