Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0375-5
Fantasy Romance, 2009
Oh my god. What on earth was that? Oh yes, GA Aiken’s What a Dragon Should Know. You know what, I don’t know how to describe this book. It’s a fabulous kind of chaos and mayhem, it’s as if Sam Raimi decided to make a sequel to his cult movie Army of Darkness only to populate the movie with warrior goddesses and ferocious women that make all but the strongest men cower in terrified awe. The humor is deliberately anachronistic, really over the top, and side-splitting. I’m still laughing just remembering this book. Oh my goodness, what has GA Aiken done to me?
Set in a fantasy world where there are two suns, we have a world where humans co-exist, sometimes uneasily, with dragons that can assume human forms. It is also a world where gods and goddesses walk among these creatures. In the North, the lightning dragons roam the skies but generally mingle among humans in human form. In the South, the fire dragons rule the humans (how these humans feel is a different story), adopting a rule not to eat the humans they rule (other humans are fair game) and generally being benevolent but bloodthirsty types. What a Dragon Should Know is the third book in the author’s Dragon Kin series which focus on a family of Fire Dragons.
And here I have to warn newcomers to the series: I’d strongly suggest you read the previous two books first because while the story starts out focusing on our lovebirds Gwenvael the Handsome and Dagmar the Beast, it eventually becomes an ensemble story as characters from the previous two books play very prominent roles in the story as their story lines become the major plot lines of this book. I enjoyed the previous two books so I’m having a blast here, but I suspect new readers will not feel the same way.
Oh yes, the story. Dagmar Reinholdt is the only daughter of a powerful warlord, and as you may expect, she’s also the only one with brainpower. Her father and her brothers all live for war and can’t see much of the world beyond wine, women, and song, so it is Dagmar who quietly sees about making and seeing to the implementation of various schemes and programs that keep the country from falling apart. But with her uncle now planning to wage war on her father’s kingdom, she sees no choice but to ask for aid from a Southern warrior queen whom everyone considered mad: Annwyl the Bloody from Dragon Actually.
Annwyl and her husband Fearghus are having problems of their own. Annwyl is human while Fearghus is a dragon, and therefore nobody knows what to make of the twins she is carrying. More troubling is how Annwyl’s pregnancy is clearly causing her to waste away. Unless something is done soon, she will most likely not survive giving birth to her children. It’s a pretty complicated string of event, but to summarize things, Annwyl sends her brother-in-law Gwenvael to meet “the Beast” and the two of them are soon knee-deep in a plot involving Annwyl’s babies, meddlesome gods and goddesses, a tomboy young lady who wants to be a soldier, and plenty of gore. Really, you have to read this story to appreciate the beautiful kind of tomfoolery Ms Aiken has lined up for you here.
Dagmar is amazing. She is not a warrior princess, she’s more of a scholar, only, she’s a scholar crossed with the ruthlessness and tenacity that makes her as dangerous as any warrior queen. She may not know how to wield a sword, but she’ll order her dogs to tear out your throat. That’s how awesome she is. She has a conscience and she can love, but you have to earn the right to deserve them from her. She doesn’t give Gwenvael any breathing room, constantly keeping him on his toes, and he gives back just as good, enjoying every minute of it.
As for Gwenvael, at first I feared that he’s going to be a clone of Ailean the Wicked, the hero of the short story in the anthology Everlasting Bad Boys that was written under the name Shelly Laurenston, since both characters are depicted as shameless male sluts. But it is soon apparent to me that Gwenvael is his own character. Unlike the mighty warriors of his clan, Gwenvael is thought to be… well, pretty useless. Seen as nothing more than a male slut, Gwenvael is trying to prove himself by taking on his sister-in-law’s mission, but in the end, he’s still a better lover than fighter. For a shapeshifter, Gwenvael is more of a beta hero, and a very adorable one at that. Vain, arrogant, narcissistic, and cocky, Gwenvael is just too cute. He’s even more cute when he’s in love, because he’s then a shamelessly charming, vain, and cocky narcissist who would do anything for Dagmar.
But the best thing about this story is not just the romance, it’s everything about it – the romance, the so-effective wacky humor, the over the top gore… everything. If you think Shelly Laurenston’s books for the Brava line is a little tame compared to her books for Samhain Publishing, don’t worry, under the GA Aiken name, she’s cheerfully turned up the mayhem to the max. I don’t believe I have read many stories that shamelessly celebrate the awesomeness of female warrior women like this story. The male dragons are dangerous and all, but in this story, the sisters are doing it for themselves. From an awesome mother-and-daughter tag team taking on a nasty dragon to just about everything that has to do with Annwyl, this is a story to read while Pink is screaming about breaking guitars and giving the finger to everyone in the background. And the epilogue, oh my god, that one is so awesome, I feel like taking up kung-fu lessons right away so that I can kick ass too.
This book is not for everyone. It’s very violent, very juvenile at times, and not very politically correct. Then again, when one of the early disagreements between Dagmar and Gwenvael stems from Gwenvael wanting to eat a puppy under Dagmar’s care, that’s when you should know that you should expect… well, the unexpected in this story. But I love this story. The world building, one of my main criticisms of the previous two books, is pretty good here, the story line is much stronger, and the humor is awesome. This book is awesome. The dragons are awesome. And I love them all because they make me feel awesome. Just awesome!