Liquid Silver Books, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-62210-246-4
Fantasy Romance, 2015
Our hero, Kohaku, has a dragon BFF, Malrith, which he keeps in powder form in his basket until he releases the dragon to fly at night. Don’t ask. He has formed a bond with Malrith since he was 8, and no, this is not some sexy bond unlike some of the dragon romance stories out there at the moment. Every day, he seems to get that “dancing pretty in nature” thing down pat.
Long, prickly grass tickled his bare legs as Kohaku paraded through the empty field. Familiar rows of trees around him formed a circle, cutting off the field from the rest of the forest. There was nothing visible here except the large pine trees atop the hill. The breeze blew strands of his crimson hair away from his neck, loosening the hair tie he’d meticulously fastened before this outing. The wind only added to the perfection this night was. With his red silk kimono – his mother’s last gift before her death – hanging upon his lanky body, Kohaku wandered further into the field until he reached the spot he’d frequented before.
Alas, his idyllic world is rocked when a hunter intrudes on his kimono-fluttering session with Malrith and charges Kohaku for treason. You see, summoning a dragon is a treasonous crime in this fantasy land of Anscien. Normally, I’d assume “treason” is related to act of betraying someone or some cause, and I’m not sure who or what is being betrayed here, but hey, let’s just go along with the author. Kohaku dares the hunter to kill him there and then, and the hunter, Sawyer, couldn’t do as he asked.
The man hadn’t begged for mercy, like the others had. No, he was too formidable in his passion as summoner. Sawyer couldn’t bring himself to restrain him, couldn’t cut him through. For the first time, he’d turned his back on the one thing he trained so hard to master – the killing of summoners and their dragons.
If a petulant “Go ahead, kill me!” can get Sawyer to break his own code, I don’t think he’s a good Hunter at all. And who’s the treasonous one here, hmm?
Of course, these two can’t avoid one another forever, as they bumble their way through town and villages.
Malrith’s Shield sees the author writing lots of impressively descriptive prose, but the story itself seems like it is a story for very young kids. This is because the characters, especially Sawyer, are said to be good at what they do, but they can behave like confused blinking goldfish in situations that normally shouldn’t be much of an issue to people of their alleged expertise and experience.
At Sawyer’s voice, his horse bucked suddenly, almost knocking Sawyer in the thigh had he not moved away. The other horse reacted to the first’s unexpected outburst.
“What the -” Sawyer doubled over, grasping at his shoulder, crying out loud like he’d done the night before. “M-my arm!”
The horses spooked. Jerked on their leathers, trying to get free. The tree they were tied to crackled with the load.
Poor Sawyer, especially, for a Hunter, behaves more like a novice. At one point, the author has Kohaku marvel at how Sawyer could sleep through the commotion outside their room. This is supposed to be a cute moment, and yet I find myself thinking, “Wait, and the author has no idea how out-of-character such a trait is for someone who is trained to be a Hunter?” By the time the story ends, poor Sawyer is more of an apprentice than anything else, and Kohaku seems far more capable compared to him. Given that Sawyer has easily broken his personal code and generally acts like an incompetent cow throughout the entire story, I can only wonder whether the author is deliberately dumbing the poor guy down to make the kimono-clad dude the alpha male and, hence, a subversive middle finger to gay stereotypes. At the end of the day, Sawyer has more in common with Bow from She-Ra: Princess of Power. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I like Bow, but I can’t shake off the feeling that the author intended Sawyer to be more capable than that. The underlying premise is fine – it’s the execution that has me scratching my head.
Anyway, Malrith’s Shield is plotted with such an absence of care to consistency or logic at times that it is almost charming in its audacity. Still, these inconsistencies can be too distracting at times, and as a result, I can never fully get into the story. The cackling evil villain only adds to the whole cartoon vibe of the story. Take away the flashy descriptions of flowers and kimono, and there isn’t much here that doesn’t belong to an episode of My Little Pony. As I’ve said, such colorful cartoon vibes do have their charms, it’s just that the author makes it very hard for me to discern whether this is an audaciously campy effort or an accidentally campy one.