Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-3159-8
Fantasy Romance, 2014
There are already seven titles before Light My Fire in GA Aiken’s Dragon Kin series, so it is definitely not newbie-friendly. Practically everyone from previous books is here, along with his or her spawns, and even if the new reader manages to work through the large cast appearance, this book is still best appreciated if the reader gets the many references to previous events in the other books. I am not going to even try to give a “The story so far!” kind of synopsis because I would probably need a small pamphlet to do the job. If you have no idea what this series is about, let’s just say that it revolves around a bunch of dragons – who can shift into hot human form, so don’t worry, this isn’t an illegal kind of animal love we’re talking about here – and their ins and outs with humans and dragons. The series have expanded to become more mainstream comedy fantasy than strictly romance, however, so every later book in the series is basically an ensemble story.
In this one, Celyn the Charming gets the spotlight when it comes to the romance department. He is basically the baby of the family, as his parents deliberately had him set up as the Queen’s personal bodyguard precisely because they aren’t certain that he could cut it out there in the wild and dangerous world outside. Celyn is quite sensitive about this, as his greatest fear is being seen as completely useless like a cousin of his, and it doesn’t help that his younger sister is out there being all soldierly and what not while he’s basically a shadow of the Queen, who’s so mean and scary that nobody would dare try to kill her anyway.
Wait, there is always one fool who’d try. Meet Elina Shestakova of the Black Bear Riders of the Midnight Mountains of Despair in the Far Reaches of the Steppes of the Outerplains. She’s tough and resourceful, but she is also a bit on the lawful dumb side in that she is conditioned to obey her tribe leader, who hates her guts. This tribe leader orders her to assassinate the Queen, and knowing that this is a death sentence, Elina decides to ahead and march to her doom anyway. Fortunately for her, Queen Rhiannon is more amused than anything else, and she asks Celyn to deposit Elina somewhere else so that Elina won’t get into further trouble. Celyn puts Elina in a jail cell – well, it is a comfortable one, so it’s not so bad! – and then promptly forgets about for a few months.
Celyn is asked to get Elina a few months down the road when a new threat emerges – there are folks who are not pleased that our dragon folks are mating with humans and producing half-half brats that these folks call “Abominations”, and these folks are planning to take down those kids and whoever is in the way under the banner of some mean god. It is decided that allying with the Amazonian warrior women of the Steppes of the Outerplains would be a great idea, so Celyn is charged to escort Elina back to her people, so that she can seek an audience with the head bitch in charge.
Meanwhile, more subplots emerge, involving an ancient dragon witch who may or may not have sinister designs on everyone, those creepy violent kids and their awesomely nasty powers, and more. Poor Annwyl is probably becoming even more bonkers, but as crazy she may be, she still manages to steal the show every time she is in the scene.
The fact that the author keeps introducing subplots with every book is probably going to be a big problem some time down the road, unless she starts resolving more of them before the subplots pile up way too high and then topple onto all of us when the pile collapses under its own weight. There are new subplots introduced here when I can think of a few that are still dangling in the air – the gods and Annwyl, for example – so I can only hope that this series isn’t anything like The X-Files, which had Chris Carter insisting that he knew what he was doing only to let the series self-destruct later on from all those convoluted subplots that can never be resolved in any way that makes sense.
Light My Fire also suffers from one more serious problem: it is a very big book, for a story in which nothing of significance really happens for a big part of the story. The first few chapters are very solid, and the last few chapters are great, but for the bulk of the middle portions, I have Celyn and Elina going from point A to B to C, mostly arguing and being silly, while the secondary characters do their thing and keep the subplots involving the kids pile up. I find it very easy to put the book down, as the momentum of the story dissipates until the last few chapters, and there are moments when I have to force myself to keep reading. The sagging middle parts can be such a chore to slough through.
Still, the characters are still fun and crazy even when I feel that the series is losing steam. Being from an extreme example of a matriarchal society, Elina has a relationship with Celyn that is basically a gender-reversed take on Conan the Barbarian and his moll of the day – Elina, for example, has no problems wanting to have sex with Celyn when the mood hits her, because that’s what a male is good for, after all. The whole thing is hilarious, especially when Celyn is often stumped by her attitude. Celyn, by the way, is a great example of a hero who doesn’t mind letting the lady be in charge, because when she’s not the boss, he knows that she’d call on him. I’m also vastly entertained by Elina’s sister as well as the creepy old dragon with, while the rest of the cast can be a bore at times because the author just plonk them in the story without putting them to good use. For example, Keita and her husband don’t need to be in this story – take them out and the story won’t lose much as a result. The cast is way too big – some trimming would have done wonders to keep this story more focused.
Light My Fire has its share of entertaining, laugh-out-loud moments, but it is also a meandering tale for a big chunk of its story. At this stage, I’m mostly here for the crazy and violent antics, as I’m no longer sure whether the overall story arc is going anywhere good. It’d be great if the author can give me more reasons to care in future books in this series.