by KS Augustin, fantasy (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 1-59998-609-4
Hmm, it sure looks like Samhain Publishing is on this dragon trip as I've seen more books featuring dragons from this publishing house in the last few weeks alone than in the last three years. Are they trying to give Changeling Press some serious competition when it comes to the furry-fan demographics? What will the next Sexy Animal of the Moment be? Centaurs? Lizards? My vote is for turtles, by the way.
Oh yes, this book. The Dragon Of Ankoll Keep has a hero who spends half the year in dragon form and the other half in human form. The heroine is a thief called Gamsin. Set in some sword and sorcery fantasy setting, this story begins with Gamsin coming to Ankoll Village hoping to find some gold in Ankoll Castle. She has heard of the legendary dragon's treasure said to be hidden in Ankoll Castle but she doesn't really believe in the existence of the treasure. Still, she figures that a castle has to have at least some gold lying around. Right?
Gold or no gold, the dragon of Ankoll Castle is however very real as Gamsin realizes after she is forced to seek shelter in the Castle due to... well, let's just say that the warning on the publisher's website about this book is for a good reason. He's in human form though. Gamsin doesn't know that the man is a dragon, however. He introduces himself to her as Ankoll and offers our bewildered heroine his hospitality, letting her stay and treating her like an esteemed guest. What is going on here? Naturally, the fellow has to turn into his dragon form eventually, so how will Gamsin deal with the revelation?
The Dragon Of Ankoll Keep contains some scenes of sexual assault and animal slaughter - nothing too explicit, but if you are one of those genteel readers who faint at the thought of dragons eating animals, you may want to get the smelling salts ready when Gamsin has to kill a few animals to feed the dragon.
I like this story due to the fact that the author seems to be avoiding most of the clichés prevalent in such fantasy romances. However, the Magic Curse-Breaking Sex cliché is still present, although I give Ms Augustin plenty of credit in her not-so-clichéd treatment of it. Gamsin may have a troubled past but she's no silly lily. While she is not a tough bionic woman type either, she nonetheless feels like a reasonably smart heroine who can think and take care of herself pretty well on the whole. This story is told entirely from her point of view though despite the use of third person narration so the poor hero remains a one-dimensional character who is nowhere as well-developed a character as the heroine.
But it isn't the hero that prevents this book from getting a higher score, it's the pacing. The second half of this story is pretty good, but the first half is so unevenly paced that this story often feels too long and draggy despite its actually short length. Those scenes Gamsin's initial stay in Ankoll and her subsequent first few weeks living in Ankoll Castle often drag on and on lifelessly and I sometimes wonder whether the author is going anywhere with her story. It is only once Gamsin discovers the dragon's curse that the story picks up, but things only get going in the late third or so in the story.
I find The Dragon Of Ankoll Keep a reasonably good read, but some tighter pacing could have made the early part of this book as good as the later half of the story.
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