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REVEW: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

REVEW: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Running Out of Dragon Puns – Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Dragon Bound by Thea HarrisonI’m going to start this review by making a slightly embarrassing confession. Although I liked a lot about Dragon Bound, I found myself irrationally prejudiced against it by a tiny feature of the author’s writing which I’m sure any sensible reader would just look beyond.

Specifically, on about page 8, I was disproportionately bothered by the author’s use of irrealis were.

The line in question is as follows:

 “If she were in a race for her life, that roar was the starter pistol. If God were the referee, he had just shouted Go.” (p. 8)

And I know it’s two sentences, and I know that I’m talking about two words out of a whole damned novel, and I know that nothing starts an argument on the internet like a discussion of grammar, but I was eight pages in and it jerked me out of the book early. I’m usually very tolerant of non-standard and flexible uses of language. I don’t care at all whether people use “which” or “that” to introduce a restrictive relative clause. I don’t mind if people say “different than” instead of “different from”, or “a couple X” rather than “a couple of X”. The one kind of language error that really trips me up is hypercorrection – when people care so much about following the perceived rules of formal writing that they apply those rules (or variants of them) at the expense of clear, idiomatic communication.

Most speakers of English in my experience, when speaking or writing informally, use “if … was” for all expressions of uncertainty, be they hypotheticals, counterfactuals, or unknowns. In some very formal contexts, some people consider it more appropriate to use “were” when dealing with explicitly counterfactual situations (“if I were you” being an example that sees relatively common use even in informal speech). It is not, as far as I know, ever used for metaphors or situations of simple uncertainty like “if she were in a race for her life” or (from later in the book) “she wondered if Keith were still alive”. Harrison is pretty consistent about her use of were, I’ve just checked on my ebook there literally isn’t a single “if … was” construction in the entire text which seems to imply that she or her editor believe that you just have to use “were” after “if” regardless of context. This doesn’t mesh with my understanding of standard English, and even when the usage is technically correct it creates a jarringly formal tone that is completely at odds with the rest of the narration or dialogue.

Okay, I promise I will stop nitpicking now and talk about, y’know, the actual book. As ever, this will involve spoilers.

So Pia Giovanni is the orphaned daughter of a mysterious (but beautiful) Wyr – a member of a diverse species of shapeshifters which includes not only your typical animal shifters (like wyrwolves, wyrbears, and – it is strongly implied – wyrmarmosets) but also more mystical beings like griffins, harpies and of course dragons (well, one dragon). She starts the book having been blackmailed by her dickhead ex-boyfriend into stealing from the hoard of the great dragon Dragos Cuelebre, who naturally isn’t best pleased about this. With the help of her boss Quentin she flees to the lands of the Elves (in Charleston, South Carolina). Dragos tracks her down, but she calls for elvish backup, which results in Dragos getting poisoned, then they get grabbed by goblins on the way back to New York, then they escape, then they spend quite a lot of time just sort of hanging out and shagging, then she gets captured again, then she escapes-slash-is-rescued, and that’s sort of it.

In a very indirect way (and I apologise for the tenuous nature of this analogy) the pacing of Dragon Bound reminded me a lot of the pacing of the original Baldur’s Gate. It’s very tightly focused at the beginning, with a clear direction and a strong set of goals, but then you finally get to the big city, and even though you’ve got a clear idea of who the bad guy is and where he’s based, suddenly everything slows down and spreads out and it’s all sidequests and looking for missing boots.

Okay, that analogy got away from me a bit. What I meant to say was that I found about the first forty-five percent of the book to be quite tightly paced with a clear idea of what the stakes were for all parties. Pia’s flight from, and capture by Dragos, their sojourn in Charleston, the attack by goblins, their capture and escape followed by the revelation that the whole situation had been orchestrated by Urien, King of the Dark Fae as part of an elaborate attempt on Dragos’ life was all very exciting and focused. Then just as they find out that Dragos’ mortal enemy has made a concerted effort to destroy him once and for all, and that Pia was to be a tool of his destruction, everything just sort of … stops.

The next forty-five percent of the novel (I read this one on Kindle, so I only really tracked progress in percentages) just lost all sense of progress for me. Dragos brings Pia back to Cuelebre tower and she … sort of hangs out? They have sex a lot, and Dragos talks a fair bit about how there’s totally going to be a war with Urien, but everybody seems significantly more interested in his relationship with Pia. There’s a lot of speculation about exactly what Pia’s wyr-form is going to be (I should really have guessed this one, because it retrospect it’s kind of obvious) and a lot of interaction between Pia and various members of Dragos’ entourage but it all feels a bit aimless after the breathless pursuit of the first half.

It’s only in the final ten percent of the book that we start getting, well, events again. Urien finally takes some action and abducts Pia (although strangely he doesn’t use her as a way to get to Dragos – he actually still thinks the two of them are enemies and only abducted her on spec). This all seemed to be resolved very quickly, with Pia getting rescued almost before I’d got used to the idea that she’d been captured.

I had a mixed time overall with Dragon Bound. I quite liked Pia, and I was surprisingly okay with Dragos despite the fact that he had all the controlling, possessive, asshole traits that usually really put me off a hero. I think, like Wrath in The Black Dagger Brotherhood, Dragos (who also has a pretty animated erection, now I come to think about it) is just so turned up to eleven that it’s hard to be bothered by his behaviour. I’ve only partly been keeping count, but I think Dragos is actually the most over-the-top hero I’ve encountered so far. Not only is he six-foot-eight in his human form (six-foot-eight seems to be a go-to height for a particular type of paranormal alpha-hero) but by my calculations he’s actually something like five billion years old. He’s not only older than the heroine, he’s older than amino acids. He’s nigh indestructible, richer than most countries, wipes out armies single-handedly and can maintain an erection more or less indefinitely. He’s also kind of ahead of the game when it comes to paranormal instalove – I’ve just about got used to heroes who obsess about the heroine as soon as they’ve met her, but Dragos manages to fixate on Pia as a result of smelling her. Once. On a till receipt.

Right from the outset he basically makes Pia the centre of his universe, and while I get why that sort of thing can be romantic, it all just seems a bit extreme. Probably his lowest moment boyfriend-wise is the bit where he has a jealous freakout at his own second in command because he sees said second-in-command sparring with Pia (which he is doing on Dragos’ direct personal orders) and their unarmed combat reminds him vaguely of a sexual position. And on the subject of sexual positions … gosh there’s a lot of shagging in this one. I don’t think it’s so much the frequency of the sexual encounters as their, umm, intensity. It’s not even that they’re particularly explicit, it’s just that they’re remarkably enthusiastic and rather … long? Dragos and Pia first get it together while they’re escaping from an army of goblins, and they spend rather more time exploring the various permutations of boinking open to them than I would have thought entirely prudent when running for one’s life. This pattern of behaviour continues after their first escape from the Dark Fae, with Dragos devoting far more time to spurting his climax into Pia than to – say – actually dealing with Urien in any way.

I think for a large part of the book I struggled to work out where the narrative tension was supposed to be coming from. The book contains a lot of potential sources of conflict, there’s Urien, there’s Pia’s interactions with the members of the Wyr court, there’s the mystery about Pia’s Wyr form, which will apparently cause people to hunt her down if they find out what she is. But none of these things really developed into an arc I could get behind. Urien seems profoundly non-threatening, the Wyr court are hostile to Pia for about eight seconds before deciding that she’s actually awesomesauce (except for Aryal the harpy who irrationally hates her) and after spending most of the book highlighting the importance of nobody finding out what Pia really is … nobody finds out what Pia really is. I mean, Dragos and his lieutenants do, but normally when a book goes to great lengths to explain that it would be really bad if Thing X happened I kind of expect Thing X to happen at some point.

Part of me almost respects the book for this. After all, we’re told in no uncertain terms that Pia and her mother put a huge amount of time and effort into hiding what Pia was, and for that matter making sure that most people don’t even believe that things like Pia exist in the world any more, so it sort of makes sense that they … well … succeeded. In a way it reminds me of that running joke in Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade where people keep looking at the chandelier and saying “wow, I hope that doesn’t fall down, because that would cause really serious problems” and it never actually does. But it still meant that yet another source of potential conflict just kind of slipped by unexploited.

The final unresolved conflict in the book is Urien’s Agent Amongst the Elves. It’s made clear pretty early on that he, well, has one and there’s speculation right until the end about who it might be and what it might mean for it to be one person rather than another. And maybe the spy in the Elven Court is revealed in a later book, but since Urien is fairly emphatically killed in the closing chapters of this one it seems a little bit irrelevant.

I should probably stress at this juncture that a lot of this is just my personal preferences and preconceptions. Particularly when it comes to the fantastical, I still carry over a lot of assumptions from reading in other genres, so I get quite thrown when books focus more on personalities than on events. I do actually see that the interactions between Pia and Dragos, the conflict between his ancient solitary instincts, her deeply ingrained fear of capture or discovery, and their mutual powerful attraction, could be enough to carry the book for a person more interested in the relationship and less interested in the action. It’s just that for me it never quite came together.

Towards the end of the book (before the kidnapping, but after the bulk of the sex) Pia’s Wyr form is revealed. I’d been looking forward to this, because I was interested to see how it would switch up the dynamic between her and Dragos. Most of the other Wyr-creatures are, after all, large and powerful and majestic and the book had routinely emphasised Pia’s relative smallness and fragility compared to the massive, manly Dragos. I sort of expected that this would change once she got her Wyr-form.

Not so much:

 She was the size of a small Shetland pony, but she was as far different from a pony as a greyhound was from a Saint Bernard.

By comparison, Dragos’ Lieutenants are the size of SUVs and the man himself is the size of a private jet. But Pia, well, let’s just get a visual on this:

Shetland Pony

This sort of killed any hope I had of taking Pia’s Wyr-nature seriously as a plot element. There’s just nothing noble or majestic about something so, well, tiny. And I appreciate that she isn’t supposed to have the actual proportions of a Shetland pony, but that makes it even more bizarre. Something with the proportions of a showhorse which never the less only comes to waist height on the average person would just look like it had been badly computer scaled.

I really wasn’t sure what was going on with the pony thing (I think maybe US Shetlands are bigger than UK Shetlands, but only by a few inches). It felt uncomfortably like the author was terrified that giving the heroine a Wyr-form that was was the size you’d expect for the creature she was would make her look unfeminine.

I felt a little bad that I didn’t like Dragon Bound more than I did, because it has a lot to recommend it. The hero and heroine are both pretty cool in their own ways (I liked that Pia was kind of low-key kinky without it being a big deal or evidence of some deep inner trauma). The world is well-realised and original (it’s sort of minor, but I really liked that the goblins came in a range of shapes and sizes), although I’d have liked to see more of the setting beyond Cuelebre tower. The supporting cast is fairly extensive, and seems to be stocked with interesting characters whose stories are presumably explored in more detail in future books (book two seems to be about Tricks the PR Fairy and Tiago the thunderbird). And the sex, while a little … exhaustive … for my tastes is still pretty hot. It’s just that there were enough little bits and pieces that didn’t work for me to keep me from really getting into the story.

 Everything I learned about life and love from reading Dragon Bound: If you steal from a dragon, don’t leave a receipt. The best time to have sex is when you’re being chased by an army of monsters. It’s dangerous to wrestle with your boss’ girlfriend. Shapeshifting is a natural contraceptive, but not a terribly reliable one.

REVIEW: The Smoke Thief by Shana Abé

REVIEW: The Smoke Thief by Shana Abé

The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe

Smoke on the Water – The Smoke Thief

My dearest Romancelandia,

A few reviews back I told you, in no uncertain terms, that dragons didn’t do it for me in, y’know, a sex way.

Well, it turns out I was completely and utterly and comprehensively wrong.

Yours, in his bunk,

Just when I think I’m getting the hang of things around here, something happens that reminds me I still need my L-plates. The first chapter of The Smoke Thief introduces us to a sixteen year old shithead who is idly watching our heroine, Rue, as she gets into trouble with some mean girls. Later, we learn that he’s the alpha dragon in these parts and Rue has a crush on him, but he’s too busy banging other people to notice. When Rue vanishes, and is presumed dead by the tribe, I genuinely spent a few chapters believing that she was going to meet someone else (someone who, perchance, wasn’t a shithead), in basic recognition of the fact that the person you sorta fancied when you were fourteen is never going to be ideal life-partner material because, hello, you were fourteen and they were probably a shithead.

Anyway, this was incredibly wrong. The shithead was the hero, the heroine was in love with him all along, and that was totally okay, and they were meant to be together and blah blah blah. And, hum, I bet everyone else saw that coming a mile off. Personal genre recalibrations aside, I did really enjoy The Smoke Thief and I am now a fully paid up, card carrying member of the ‘dragons are hot’ club. Do we get badges? The last dragon-themed romance I read was Dragon Actually, and wangs aside, I didn’t get much sense of the reality of dragons from that book. Yes, they were very big and scaly, but I didn’t quite believe in them somehow, or develop a conception of them as being as meaningfully distinct from humans. To put it another way, Tolkein would probably have said they approached dracognitas rather than true draco. In The Smoke Thief, however, the sheer glorious awesome of being a dragon is given plenty of attention. I apologise, this is going to be a long quote but I didn’t have the heart to cut, well, any of it:

Ah. Her first breath was like inhaling snow, fiercely cold, sending light and energy through her entire being … She lifted her head and stole her second, delicious breath, bounding across the firmament, a phantom creature that matched the sun and those purer clouds: her body pearl white, her scales rimmed in gold.

The drákon were sleeker than the depictions that survived in medieval tapestries and texts … living flame and speed and gilded wings that mastered the wind. No wonder the Others had rendered them so clumsy in their fables; in true life their radiance was almost incomprehensible, splinters of sky, as fatal and glorious as a hail of firelit arrows. (pg. 69)

I think even Tolkein would have to admit: that, my friends, is sheer draco.

To be honest, my most dominant reaction to The Smoke Thief was ‘holy shit, this is beautifully written’. I’ve discussed this a bit before in comments, and I’ll try not self-derail, but I tend to feel that writing quality is often far more subjective than people are willing to credit. At least, once you get beyond the basics of getting the words in the right order. I have often caught myself levelling somewhat arbitrary charges of being ‘badly written’ at books I don’t like, or want to feel in some way superior to, so I’ve consciously tried to find a reading space that allows me to respond positively to what I feel might be ‘good’ writing, while also preventing me from leaping gleefully onto my high horse over things that simply aren’t expressed the way I would necessarily express them. Therefore, when I say The Smoke Thief is gorgeous, I mean not only were the words placed coherently on the page in the generally approved fashion but they were so strikingly arranged thereupon that they stirred me from my stew of careful neutrality and I actually noticed them. And this is a big deal for me.

The sheer loveliness of the writing saturates the whole book. Your mileage may vary because, for some people, it could stray a bit too close to purple but, frankly, I like that colour. I mean we are talking a deep, rich indigo here, not your Grandmother’s lavender pot-pourri. I honestly think I read it in a sort of swoon, reeling from page to page like a summer-drunk drone, finding myself bizarrely interested in the sort of things I confess I usually skip, like the colour of heroine’s frock or how hot the hero looks with his kit off:

The Marquess of Langford, with his remote composure and his eyes hooded green, no human modesty, no shame. He was drákon, and Rue realised now that she had never seen it so clearly in anyone until this moment: not mortal, not weak, but something ancient and formidable, barely bound in the sinew and grace of a man’s unclothed body. (p. 73)

Ngh. The words, the words, they are so very pretty, I just want to roll around in them, purring. It’s a good job I’m already in my bunk.

The Smoke Thief is set in a sort of alt-Georgian England, except with dragons. They’re able to blend into society by taking human form but they live by very different rules within their own tribe. I really loved the setting – I mean dragons and women in fabulous gowns and men in high heels, my buttons, they are so pressed right now. What worked particularly well for me was the blending of fantasy and history, so there was a sense of familiarity as well as difference. This gave the world a degree of natural depth, without either making everything generic or requiring masses of detailing, although, truthfully, I could have done with just a touch more exposition because I still have no idea what’s going on with the drákon, where they came from, what they’re doing, and how their society is supposed to work. However, unlike Dragon Actually, I read it as deliberate obfuscation, rather than inadequate world building.

I actually found the fragmentary glimpses of the drákon somewhat troubling because much about their society seemed actively unpleasant and oppressive. Part of the plot revolves around recapturing this poor guy who tried to run away from it (he just wanted to play the violin and be free) and I felt absolutely terrible for him. Similarly, the heroine is on the lam from consistent ill-treatment, and a potential forced marriage with the hero, and I know Georgian England wasn’t exactly a walk in liberty park either, but I genuinely wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel about Rue having to go back and become part of this deeply horrible culture. And, in this respect, I almost felt the language of The Smoke Thief was a further obfuscation – everything is expressed with such lavish sensuality, it’s remarkably easy to get distracted by the pretty and ignore, or downplay, how nasty things actually seem to be. I suppose that’s fitting for a book about dragons, though, bedazzling, marvellous monsters that they are.

The main action of The Smoke Thief revolves around the adventures of Rue and Christoff as they chase a stolen diamond and he attempts to get her to marry him in the traditional romance hero manner of threats and blackmail (all these years, I’ve been doing it so wrong). The plot is deliciously twisty, involving both crocodiles and masquerade balls, and, for the most part, maintains a sensible balance between sexual tension and exciting adventures. Though, now I think about it, they do, at one point, stop to shag at a ball, rather than giving pursuit to the thief they’d come to the ball expressly in order to catch, which wouldn’t have been nearly so jarring if the rest of the book hadn’t woven the sexing and romance so effectively into the narrative tapestry. What did throw me, however, was the fact the book itself opens with what I can only describe as a detour into complete weirdness, which I shall attempt to share with you now. Deep breath…

So there’s this fairytale place and special people live there who, like, hear, diamonds and are totally magical and shit, but then Others come and are mean to them until they all run away, but they leave some of their kids and diamonds behind because, I don’t know, baggage handling requirements, and there’s this amazing castle that nobody can get into but then the Others eventually do get into it, and it’s full of amazingly hot, pale people who apparently spawned themselves Biblical style by some committed, hardcore incesting. So then the incest-dragons who live in a fairytale castle in the Carpathians become Feudal nobility, and it’s all groovy, but one of their diamonds has turned evil, and people are starting to get pissed off because Feudalism is not a sensible system of government, yo, and then some random peasant nicks the evil diamond and a dragon princess, and things go bad, and it’s all bad, and the dragons start dying because … they do? Then the dragon princess arbitrarily kills the peasant and pegs it with the evil diamond, burying it under ground, before arbitrarily dying herself. And so all the dragons are dead and the evil diamond is buried, except it turns out there were other dragons somewhere else all along who are totally fine and not dead … and holy flaming prologue, Batman, what was any of that about?

I expect it’s probably about establishing the series premise but, ultimately, it’s still an entire prologue about some drákon who have nothing to do with the drákon in the book, and a diamond that also isn’t the diamond in the book. It is, however, testament to just how ludicrously lovely I found The Smoke Thief that my main reaction to this was not “what the hell, this is completely irrelevant” but, instead, “oh, this is beautiful, I like this, is there more?” And this isn’t a real whinge, it’s mainly bewilderment, and I will add that both the prologue and epilogue, with their slightly fairytale style, serve as gorgeous bookends to the main story.

As seems pretty typical for me, I found myself liking the heroine considerably more than the hero, although I also got the satisfying sense that they were very well matched, as they are both strong, clever and capable, without always being sympathetic. Having fled the drákon to avoid being forced into marriage with Christoff, Rue has made her career as a jewel thief, a wonderfully dragonish profession (and, incidentally, I just love how acquisitive and into shiny stuff the drákon are). Although much less openly aggressive than Christoff, she is, in her subtler way, just as savage, sharp and ruthless as he is and I liked the way the power balance remained pretty equal between the two of them, despite Christoff’s constant attempts to tip it in his favour. I also felt they both came across as distinctly paranormal creatures, not merely as humans with extras. Their morality, their passions and their values seemed noticeably (and, occasionally, unpleasantly) their own; and their ability to shift from human, to smoke, to dragon is portrayed as being inextricable from who they are, and plays an important role in their developing relationship.

Christoff, however, I wavered on. I will admit the language sort of seduced me into being into him and there’s enough vulnerability there to lend sympathy to some of his more alphatastic behaviour. It’s a bit ‘poor little all-powerful uber-dragon’ but he’s just as trapped by his role, and the expectations of it, as anyone else in his world:

He thought of all the times he’d wanted to run himself, to escape Darkfrith. He looked out at the stars thrown cross the cold sky and envy of [Rue] speared through him bright as pain – just a flash, and then he smothered it. (p. 39)

And, although he’s relentless in his pursuit of Rue, he’s driven as much by his loneliness as by, y’know, his overwhelming manly need to possess her:

But, beneath his look was something even worse. Beneath it was something that flickered and caught in her chest, tenderness and recognition and a sparse, empty ache that seemed to penetrate her very being. (p. 139)

There’s no denying he’s kind of a dick a lot of the time, and the bit when he threatens to murder a child unless Rue marries him is kind of a nadir even for a dragon operating under a different set of moral values, but he’s also clearly a rather sad and stifled dick, which made him slightly more bearable than is probably right or fair. Towards the end of the book, I was even starting to feel he might be about to change and grow as a person:

He was tired of her hostility. He was tired of trying to woo and manage her at once. She was too intelligent for blandishments and too independent to bow to his will just because he wanted her to. (p. 169)

Oh, yes, Christoff! Yes! Well done. You’ve finally noticed that Rue is a real person, with wants and needs that may be divergent from your own. Good on you, my lad, good on you. Perhaps you should, y’know, try actually talking to her? But then, literally a handful of pages later as they get their dragon-bonk on behind a painted screen at a ball:

Rape or seduction. He would take either. (p. 186)

Picard Facepalm

Bad dragon. No biscuit. I think what really confused me about this line was that it came out of nowhere, like a cartoon anvil, when they were already having perfectly consensual sex. And I understand it’s probably meant to convey the primal urgency of Christoff’s passion but, dragon or not, I can’t readily imagine the thought process that develops from “I’m really enjoying this consensual sex we’re having” to “This consensual sex we’re having is so damn good, that if it wasn’t consensual, I wouldn’t care.” That’s just kind of insane.

And, even though I recognised that Christoff and Rue were very alike, and very well-suited, I wasn’t entirely happy about the ending. Basically Rue and Christoff end up together (no surprise) and go back to Dragonville, where there’s vague talk of Changing Things For The Better TM, and promises that they’ll regularly come back to London so Rue has some freedom left in her life. I can’t decide whether I’m deeply unromantic, because I didn’t really buy into the primal meant-to-be-togetherness of their relationship, or excessively romantic, because I felt it was too great a compromise. Obviously, I recognise that, in real life, love is compromise, and that’s okay, but Rue was such a fiercely independent character, and drákon society seemed so bloody awful, that I wasn’t sure Christoff was worth it. And I know have a slightly problematic, and let’s face it, patronising tendency not to trust heroines with their own happiness but I felt the fact that Rue had a crush on Christoff when she was growing up was over-accepted as a reason for why they should be together now. They do spend a fair bit of time together, chasing the diamond and having sex, but Christoff spends the whole of that time actively lying to her about his intentions and trying to bludgeon her into marrying him. We’re told early on that love works differently for the drákon:

The drákon did not woo and wed as Others did; their dance was more primal, the outcome more fixed. Driven by instinct, as well as passion, when mates were chosen, it was for the course of a lifetime. (p. 58)

But, honestly, I kind of found that a bit of a cop-out. I hasten to add, this wasn’t anything to do with the book, just my personal preferences and interests coming into play. For me, love has to be an intellectual drive as well as an instinctual one and, although Christoff was attractive and powerful and wore some truly excellent coats, I couldn’t quite see why it had to be him for Rue, and not some other attractive, powerful and sartorially classy bloke. I mean, I know they’re both alpha dragons and therefore somewhat limited in their options, but, for me to buy this particular romance, I needed to feel that their being together was as much genuine choice as a natural inevitability. Right at the very end, Christoff does release Rue from her obligation to marry him – but I got no sense from that scene that he really believed she might leave him, or that she even really considered it. So that slightly unbalanced the book for me because it felt like Rue’s real concerns for her freedom and agency got subsumed into “well, it’s okay, really, because she loves him.”

On the other hand, I suspect this an entirely personal grumble, and it was certainly a minor one. The Smoke Thief is an engaging, elegant story, beautifully told, and the most successful blending of romance and fantasy I’ve read so far. Well, okay, that’s from a shortlist of two, but it’s still top.

Everything I learned about life and love from reading The Smoke Thief: I like pretty words. Having your leg gored by a crocodile is no barrier to bonking. Georgian England has the best frocks and the best shoes. Dragons are totally hot. Heroines with swords are totally hot. Heroines in drag are totally hot.