by GA Aiken, fantasy (2008)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0373-1
Dragon Actually is an unusual case for a book in that it is also published in print form by Zebra at pretty much the same time the ebook is released by Samhain Publishing. The ebook published by Samhain Publishing has a different cover and is available for $6.50, but the content in both the book and the ebook is the same. That is not all, this book actually has a longer story packaged together with a bonus shorter story called Chains & Flames. This longer story was previously published by Triskelion Publishing back in 2004 under the title To Challenge A Dragon. It is not usual for a book to be given so many chances, so GA Aiken - actually the pseudonym of Shelly Laurenston - must have done same fancy maneuvering with the publishers to pull this off.
This book makes me laugh, and I mean that in a good way. High in camp factor and full of action, this story is like Xena on steroids. Annwyl the Bloody, our heroine, hates her brother and the feeling is mutual, has been ever since they tried to kill each other when they were kids. Annwyl now leads a band of men in her continuous skirmishes against her brother Lorcan of Garbhán Isle who is trying his best to be the more bloodthirsty version of Napoleon Bonaparte in this medieval fantasy setting. Any enemy of Lorcan, needless to say, is Annwyl's ally. And oh boy, Annwyl is definitely Xena with a temper here so if you are not fond of in-your-face warrior princess heroines, you may want to think twice about reading this one.
Shortly after the story opens, Annwyl is badly injured in a skirmish with her brother's army. Don't worry, she's not some fake kick-ass heroine who turns out to be as tough as a drowned kitten - poor Annwyl is outnumbered in this case and she goes down fighting right to the end because she's so fabulous like that. Luckily for her, she happens to be fighting near the den of Fearghus the dragon. That's Fearghus the Destroyer to you, by the way. The dragon can care less about what humans do to each other, but he takes offense when those humans decide to bring their nonsense to his doorstep. Since Fearghus is bored and hungry, he figures that those humans at his doorstep would be great for some impromptu barbecue session. Annwyl's apparent defiance of the inevitable intrigues him enough to not only spare her for to also bring her to his sister for some bedside care.
Annwyl reasonably decides that a dragon is just what she needs to boost the might of her army and take down her no-good tyrant brother once and for all, but Fearghus insists that he is above meddling in the affairs of petty humans. He does, however, send a human knight to aid Annwyl. A handsome but oh-so-annoying knight, mind you, causing Annwyl to feel conflicted between her dragon love and human lust. This isn't a ménage à trois story, by the way, in case you're wondering.
This one is a complete hoot to read because the author has combined plenty of scenes of violence mixed with humor to the point that this story is similar in terms of tone and style as, say, the later Evil Dead movies. I'd be hard pressed to call Annwyl and Fearghus intelligent since both of them are hot-headed and impulsive creatures who tend to act first before thinking, but they are a riot to follow. The romance does have its moment of... eccentric, shall we say, tenderness, where a loving scene of smooches can easily be followed by a scene of Annwyl cutting off her enemy's head. I love this. Everything about Dragon Actually is fast-paced, funny, and relentlessly action-packed.
The only drawback I would say is that the setting is disappointingly vague. It's a generic medieval fantasy world with dragons and that's pretty much it. If this is a short story, I could overlook the lack of details in the setting, but this story is close to being a full-length book and therefore I think the author could have done more to flesh out the fantasy world of hers. Still, that is only a small complain - I'm too busy having fun either way with the story.
The shorter story, Chains & Flames, was also previously released by Triskelion Publishing. This one tells the story of how Fearghus' parents meet. Rhiannon, the proud and haughty princess who dislikes her mother, is not pleased when her dearest mother has announced that Rhiannon will be wedded off to Bercelak, a dragon that Rhiannon considers too disgusting and "lowborn" for a princess of her stature. Well, she will show her mother that she is not to be bossed around, so she decides to take off... only to learn that her mother has retaliated by magically forcing Rhiannon to take on human form.
Bercelak has always been infatuated with Rhiannon even if she treats him no better than the dirt stuck on the soles of her paws. Or maybe that is why he likes her, who knows. Some men are funny like that. When he finds this naked woman crumpled outside his cave, he is pleased at first because it looks as if someone has delivered dinner to his doorstep. Of course, a careful sniff reveals that this human is actually Rhiannon so you can imagine how much happier Bercelak becomes, I'm sure.
Normally, I'd run away screaming from this one because Rhiannon behaves like a very spoiled child here. But Ms Aiken is quite a sneaky genius in her own way because she has me laughing instead at the rampant foolishness taking place in this story. I'm convinced that both Rhiannon and Bercelak are sociopaths, but that makes me adore them more. They are the type who would smooch each other after a romantic evening of burning down human villages and eating a hapless grandmother or two - they are so cute together, I tell you.
Needless to say, Dragon Actually is a rollercoaster ride of non-stop fun and most entertaining comedy from start to finish. I love it! I don't think this book is for everybody, though. If you have a high tolerance for camp and over-the-top comedy that can get quite morbid at times, take a look at this one and who knows, you may have as great a time with it as I did.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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