REVIEW: The Black Dragon by December Quinn
Dear Ms Quinn,
As Jane says, I love me some swashbuckling. As historically incorrect as it is, I love Errol Flynn’s “Robin Hood” over any other version with its sword fights, stave fights, and lots of archery. I guess I must have misread something into your description of your medieval story because I kind of had the idea that this is what I’d be getting. Lots of action scenes of the hero saving people and generally doing lots of “Scarlet Pimpernel-esque” medieval derring do. Instead, you give us a nice medieval love story that, unfortunately for me, is low on “guy movie” scenes.
Isabelle’s first meeting with Gruffydd ap Hywel wasn’t a great success. After he saved her from the clutches of a lecherous squire, he disappeared into the crowd at the marriage celebration of King John’s illegitimate daughter to the Welsh prince, Llewelyn. Six years later, neither is overjoyed to see the other at their own wedding, carried out under orders of the English King and Welsh prince. But this isn’t an age when a subject can say “no” and the deed is done. Isabelle journeys back with her lord to his Welsh stronghold and begins to adjust to life in a foreign country. There’s a new language and customs to learn, people to meet, a keep to manage and a husband to figure out. Like, why won’t he consummate the marriage, why won’t he tell her where he goes at night, what’s in that closed building he spends hours in and why will he not tell her anything about himself? Her promise to her father not to leave her husband unless he tells her to go is getting harder and harder for Isabelle to keep. If she only knew how hard it is for her seemingly cold husband to keep his distance from her and what are the tragic reasons behind what he does.
First off I’d like to thank you for the Welsh pronunciation guide you included in your author’s note. Nothing bugs me more than having to guess throughout an entire book how to say a character’s name. I also appreciate you explaining why you chose to deviate from certain facts and standard practices. That way instead of fuming about why the heroine was the ripe old age of 21 before marriage instead of the usual early teen, I could just enjoy the book. I do have some questions: was Gruffydd’s keep more like an English castle or a Saxon fortified dwelling? And were his followers knights or more like men-at-arms? And what was the Welsh word that Isabelle shocks Gruffydd by saying? Don’t tease me like that then don’t put out! ;) Why is everyone riding across country with so few guards or no guards/knights to accompany them? There are bandits and highwaymen galore and off the characters ride just for fun around castle or to/from Wales. And since the hero’s family got killed on the road why is he not more worried about being attacked when he brings Isabelle home? It didn’t make sense.
Now, as for the hero and heroine. Gruffydd is a martyr hero who must save the world to compensate for not doing anything to save his mother and sister from a highwayman. I can understand the basic reasoning but this guy is to the limit. I did wonder how you were going to convince him to stop heading out each night to watch over everyone under his protection but your ending makes sense. Isabelle tends to wallow in guilt over having caused all the later problems but she’s young and at that age so I could forgive some of it. I did think it odd that she wouldn’t have taken over caring for her husband after he was injured so severely early in the book. Wouldn’t she have been trained to do this as part of her duties as the chatelaine? I thought the change to love and closeness between the two was handled well. It wasn’t overnight but a gradual thing.
Rhys, Gruffydd’s steward, is far too in touch with his feelings for a 12 C man. He and hero discuss hero’s feelings for heroine way too much. Would two real men do this? Hmmmm, I don’t think so. Maybe something like, “Hey man, you’re treating her like shit.” “Fuck off, it’s none of your business.” “I’m just saying, is all.” “Well, you said. Now let’s get back to sword practice.” As I said earlier, I wanted to see more of hero in Black Dragon mode. I wanted to see him fight, see him save people, see all these nightly adventures. Instead what we get is him dragging his wounded, exhausted ass home in the morning followed by a few after action reports. And I can’t help but comment that your art department isn’t showing you any love with that cover. Bam has pretty much covered that so I’ll just direct people to her cover snark for a full report. One thing I was grateful for is that you don’t try to give the villain reasons for his villainy. No sad sob stories about how his mother didn’t love him or that he never had a puppy when he was growing up. He’s evil and that’s the end of it and it’s refreshing in its own way.
Once I realized that I wouldn’t be getting the amount of action sequences I’d hoped for, I settled down and just enjoyed the story for what it is. Readers looking for a slightly different medieval setting ought to check this one out. B- and quickly flip past the cover on your ereader.