Pre-read: Guess who decided to foot the $4.99 bill on Amazon and read this book?
Guess who's going to read this sometime this weekend and review it critically?
I'm perhaps partially bonkers, but I'm also a scientific mind. I have no regrets.
(And frankly, I'm reading Pierce Brown's "Golden Son" so I think I have a good buffer read to counter to this one if it's not my cuppa.)
Post-read: So I ended up surviving the whole read.
Bought this on Amazon for $5.35 ($4.99 plus tax), managed to read this over four days time. Decided I'm not returning it to Amazon. I think my notes on it are ones I'll want to return to on how not to write fantasy.
It wasn't very good to be honest. Very few moments where I could say it had potential as a respectful fantasy tale, but there were too many problems. Some points I was offended, some points I was bored, other points had lacking development and awkward transitions as well as translation (and yes, this book was translated, but even then, I think the content had problems as well as the formatting).
I've been brainstorming a few ways to write this review, but I decided I'd better just stick to standard and explain the issues I had with it. I have a feeling that this review would've never been posted had I asked the author's permission. =/
This review will probably end up breaking the character limit (or coming somewhat close), but I'm going to try to streamline this into sections to make following this easier. There's much to cover.
I think there are other people who have articulated issues regarding York's ill thought, naive blogpost much better than I. I picked up this book in light of the controversy, because I was genuinely curious at how it came across. If a single 1-star review triggered that particularly censoring "wishlist" for people perusing and reflecting upon this book, then what was it about this book that worked/didn't work? I didn't read the original blurb (at first) that this book had while on Goodreads, but it seems that it was cleaned up to clarify what was essentially a full on summary that felt too long, too tedious to read (and that probably should've told me what I was in for in the long run).
Unfortunately, that amended blurb doesn't really tell you much about the meandering story this book contains, and really - "Dragonbride" had little standing for plot and establishment for a fantasy novel. It's false advertising, because while the MC is said to be Shalima, a witch who trains and plays a role in fulfilling a prophecy that could mean the end of the world, the book starts in a completely different place. It takes the route (first, because there's no chapter 1, it has to start at chapter 2, which seems to be a formatting error, and some of the chapters are broken up into decimals, which I have no idea why and it seemed extraneous/tedious) of describing a vague setting, then transitions to a translation of a prophecy involving the birth of a girl named Ardelia and a woman named Imra.
So if the MC's Shalima, why does this start with Ardelia/Imra? Keep reading, you'll find out.
Ardelia's birth has all the grandeur of a stereotypical TCO (The Chosen One). She's beautiful, her mother was beautiful but died because her father "was too cheap" to get a proper midwife (and somehow the author makes it clear it was his fault his wife died). Ardelia was (at first) sent to another family but since the woman (Imra) had too many children to take care of, she sends Ardelia back to her father, who sells her as a sexual slave. SHE'S REPEATEDLY RAPED, including an attempted rape by her father, who "couldn't get it up" in Aurelia's words, because he was too drunk to do so.
And the attention to the rape(s) are a fixation I do not understand in this narrative, on multiple levels. It wasn't so much the fact that rape was mentioned as it was portrayed in the narrative that left a bad vibe with me.
Take this quote, for instance. It has to do with Imra and Ardelia when Ardelia worries about a dragon potentially eating her since a certain type of dragon feeds on virgins, when she realizes that dragons are a real entity in their world.
"Don't worry, Ardelia. Only Water Dragons eat virgins, but since you're no longer a virgin, you have little to worry about..."
What kind of thing is that to say to a child who's been repeatedly raped? From a character that's supposed to be sympathetic, and why was this detail even important? On one hand, Imra says that what's happened to Ardelia's a horrible thing (as does the villagers who witness Irma buying the child from her abusive father), but there are suggestions later on that despite Ardelia's victimization, she's not someone whom "anyone" would want. I'll get into more of that a little later.
There's a bit of an Interlude/Intermission (between the First Second chapter) of another story of a Golden Dragon which makes the narrative even more confusing to follow, because there's multiple stories going on at one time. It isn't until 12% in the novel that we meet Shalima, and the book trades back and forth between Third Person and First to show the differences between Ardelia and the Dragon's experiences. versus Shalima's. I think at some point the author decided it was a bad idea to keep going back and forth between First and Third Person, so eventually, it just becomes Shalima's story in First, but it wasn't a transition that was done well at all. It felt like large dumps of info instead of being resonant and intimate to the characters involved.
The dialogue between Ardelia and Imra was frequently very static and stilted, and part of me realizes that might've been the translation, but it was still very detrimental to the pacing of the novel in the part, even for one (long) chapter.
Middle - Instalove and Call to Battle
Shalima's story is probably the longest and most tedious part of the novel because it's a combination of a play by play of her instalove with her marriage to a Golden Dragon (matter in point THE Golden Holy Dragon), who has three names that are frequently confusing to follow: Dagron (obvious human to dragon name is obvious), Draco, and Golden Dragon and her training as a witch (which some of it I liked, others I didn't). And the names of Shalima's lover were so similar that I had a hard time keeping up with them because all three names referred to the SAME person/being and were used interchangably. I almost wish the author would've chosen just ONE.
The author took the time to fully (agonizingly so) telegraph the exchanges between the Golden Dragon/Draco/Dagron and Shalima; there was very little intimacy between them despite suggested (and really generic) sexual interludes, and constant pet names for each other, which made it cheesy. There was even the unveiling of Draco's true form as a dragon when Shalima saw him just before they were to be wed, and he shed a single Dragon Tear (which was an inconsistency for a later quest when Shalima had to gather a Dragon Tear and Draco says "Dragons don't shed tears!" and they have this long process of trying to get him to cry in his dragon form.)
According to a prophecy though, Shalima's training as a witch is needed, since marrying Draco (I'll call him Draco from now on) means she's now a "dragon princess." So how does Ardelia play into this? Shalima saves Ardelia's life by casting a spell that forced Ardelia's father to leave her alone, but somehow at the expense of Ardelia becoming mute for the rest of her life (so now she's repeatedly raped and mute, poor girl). But Ardelia can mentally communicate with Shalima since Shalima's a witch (don't ask me how this make sense, I don't know). At one point Shalima and Ardelia shame Ardelia's condition, saying that "no one would want her" because of her so called sexual history (for crying out loud, she was RAPED!) and her disability. But conveniently later on, Ardelia meets a "dark skinned" man named Li whom she shares a fondness for, which I had a hard time seeing also because the whole matching was a part of a prophecy that Shalima mentioned.
Matter in point, a whole heck of a lot of things in this novel are explained by way of convenient prophecy, which is a cop out for the world building and development to make these relationships hit home if they were even to be remotely established. This becomes a problem with the establishment of the greater conflict of the novel, as Shalima has to step up to the plate to battle a force of evil that means the end of the world.
Ending - Where the eff was the villain/conflict; possibly meaningless sacrifices?
So, the whole novel is supposed to culminate over a final battle that means a fight to prevent the end of the world, but you never really know who the villain is until the very end of the novel, and by that time, it's really hard to care because the only motivation that the villain has is 1. He's evil and 2. It's a part of the prophecy. Not to mention Dragons are said to become extinct as a part of the "prophecy", and Shalima realizes with horror that it means the sacrifice of one she loves.
And the narrative literally goes on and on and on for chapter sections about his purported demise, and I'm to the point where it's telegraphed so blatantly that I want to say "Just get to the scene, already!" I found it hard to care, because if you keep saying that a character is going to die over and over again for prolonged sections, it kills the tension of when the event actually happens. There was even another character that was killed (he wasn't in the novel long enough to matter, just someone to reconfirm the "prophecy") that served as just one of those throw in things after a long stretch of nothing happening in the novel but massive infodumps.
After the final battle, Shalima has to move on in her role as the TCO *cough* Dragon Princess, when she figures out she's pregnant and things for her kingdom have to move on from there. And the novel ends for the promise of a sequel that follows the family from there.
Honestly, I think someone could've made this story work in more resonant ways than what it provided, because the story wasn't bad for theory for an epic tale, but the execution was terrible and even offensive in points for the way it expounded on sensitive things like rape and disability, and not to mention it infodumped constantly, cut tension in places where it could've been very impactful, static character development, stilted dialogue, and very lazy worldbuilding where every conflict and resolution was predicted by a vague "prophecy". Plus, no true villain with motivations other than the fact they were "evil."
In the end, I've read more vested fantasy tales, and I won't be following this series or buying future installments - it wasn't worth the long slog and it was incredibly tedious to read. I did buy this from Amazon, but the thing about it is, I won't be returning it because this is a good example of what not to do with a fantasy tale. I took copious notes and highlights in my copy, some of which I couldn't quote in this entire review. Whether by translation or just by the writing in itself for origin, I can't tell, but I think it's warranted to say that York has a lot of work cut out for her, to be able to respect variant opinions of her work, respect her readership, take criticism, as well as use it to improve her craft tremendously.
Overall score: 1/5 stars