by Mary Gillgannon, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7303-8
I'm afraid The Dragon Prince, sequel to Dragon Of The Island and Dragon's Dream, starts out on a wrong track and it never recovers from its grave misstep ever since. The heroine, Eastra, frankly, is the medieval equivalent of Bimbo Barbie.
Yeah, yeah, I probably think that all romance heroines are bimbos, but seriously, Eastra makes one stupid misstep from which this story plunges into "Huh?" territory and it never manages to get out of there.
When she was a kid, her life was spared by then-brat Rhun ap Maelgwn. Rhun was on his first ever raid, and sickened by the brutality around him, he couldn't bring himself to execute Saxon lass Eastra. 18 years later, King Arthur - you know, the most famous cuckold in Anglophilia history? - is trying to bring peace to the lands. Rhun has gone up the social ladder and is now one of the more important players in court. Imagine his surprise when he recognizes Eastra - now lovely, sexy, and comely - as the badly-garbed servant girl of the Saxon leader Cerdic.
He soon learns that Cerdic is Eastra's uncle. Eastra was a servant despite being born a princess until the day her owners were killed by Rhun's people that fateful day. Now Cerdic is her guardian. Since Cerdic is a wily one who may or may not be King Arthur's ally, the best way may be Arthur keeping one of Cerdic's people hostage to safeguard his behavior.
Eastra offers herself.
The story gets flushed down the sewers.
Why would she do this? Because she has been in love with Rhun all this while. Fine. I'm okay with that. I'm not okay, however, with Eastra's offering herself as a pawn because she (a) wants to be with Rhun, come what may, and (b) she is counting on Rhun to keep her safe. This is like the story of a Jew who asks to be admitted into a concentration camp to be the Nazi soldier's girlfriend because she is sure that her boyfriend-to-be (she is not even sure that he will want her, mind you) will keep her safe forever.
If that is not stupid, I don't know what is.
How lucky for her that Rhun does want her and keeps her safe. For the rest of the time, it's her making cow-starlit eyes at him and he waxing poetry about how he wants her but eh, there's always some external conflict intruding their Medieval Utopia Rescue Fantasy.
That's a pity because no matter unbelievable the romance can be - it's more luck that Eastra isn't dead, isn't it? - and no matter how stock-ish some secondary characters can be (jealous slave girls, et cetera), there are some interesting elements here. Cerdic, for example, could have been a rampaging nutcase, but instead he comes off like a man true to his time. The sense of helplessness a woman feels in those times can be quite real, which is why I find Eastra's silly bunny put-my-life-to-chances antics a strange contradiction to the attitude of those times. There's also Bridei, an interesting Loki-like secondary character that would've been a fine hero in his own right.
The Dragon Prince would've been an above average formulaic medieval romance, if the set-up of the story has been done better. Oh well, maybe next time.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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