A year ago, I read the first book from local Author and freelance editor Vanessa Ricci-Thode, The Dragon Whisperer. While it had some action, I would describe the book as a dramatic fantasy more than anything else, with obvious influences from Game of Thrones yet it was still its own story. Drama is not a genre I usually read, but the likeable characters, the well explored dragon mythology and a couple twists were more than enough to keep my attention. I liked it, and would say it’s worth checking out if you like dragon fiction. This past October her second book released, After the Dragon Raid. I just finished reading it this evening, so here are my thoughts.
Before I get into this, let me make it clear that this is not a book review. Considering I personally know Ricci-Thode and have used her editing services, it would be dishonest for me to make this a full review or to not mention this connection. I don’t know her that well beyond Nanowrimo and her editing services but still.
After the Dragon Raid is essentially a romance book, set in a fantasy world involving warring kingdoms, enchanters and of course, dragons. This makes it the second romance book I’ve read this year, although the other one, Midnight’s Daughter, didn’t make that very clear in the book’s description. I could go on about how many things I disliked about Midnight’s Daughter but if you want to hear me rant about that, read its review. This book on the other hand was pretty good.
Compared to Dragon Whisperer, it’s clear that Ricci-Thode has become a more confident writer. There’s more detail put into the battle scenes than in Dragon Whisperer and the dialogue is often wittier. Character backstories are more complex, their interests are explored more and their emotions are really tested at times. Some of the romance scenes get a little … steamy, and each of them feel slightly different yet equally effective.
The book stars Tassia, an elite soldier from the fictional Wheat Sky Empire, Sam, a nomad she rescues from a lunatic enchantress. Tassia’s a fun character right away, taking advantage of her small stature and speed in combat from the opening battle. Sam is a much more mysterious character, having travelled around for 12 years and has plenty of stories to tell that really help build the world in interesting ways.
The way their relationship slowly builds over the course of a year makes it feel much more authentic than most romance movies I’ve seen (where it happens over the course of about a week at most). One thing I found interesting is that the couple grow together the most while attending Tassia’s garden. I’m not a gardener by any means (even though I’ve help my grandma with the more physical aspects sometimes), but Ricci-Thode does a good job at explaining what they’re doing without over explaining things.
Probably the biggest problem I have with romance stories is the third-act breakup, which often feels tacked on. While ATDR does have a third-act breakup, it’s actually earned thanks to plenty of build-up and other conflicts between the leads. The resolution also isn’t instant, and it takes time for the couple to get over their differences. These factors really help their relationship feel more realistic and more beautiful as a result.
I’m undecided on parts of the ending though. It’s true that romance books often have happy endings and why shouldn’t they? On the one hand, some things in the ending fell into place a little easy for my tastes, but on the other hand the world and characters were built in a way that made it work. ATDR didn’t end with every conflict magically solved, and that helps too. This could just be personal taste talking and I don’t think it’s a problem with the writing.
The dragons aren’t quite as centric to the plot as they were in Dragon Whisperer, but they’re still around enough for dragon-obsessed readers. If you’re into either fantasy with elements of political thriller or romances that take place in medieval settings, there’s something in this book for you. The action isn’t too graphic so it shouldn’t bother anyone unless you’re really squeamish. It has a little bit of everything.
As a reader, I’m glad I read this. It means I can enjoy a well-written romance story, even if I have no plans to actively seek them out. It’s not a huge surprise though considering I’m really enjoying the romance sub-plot within the Kate Daniels series. The next book on my reading list is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I also intend to read and review the rest of the Cadaverific series sometime this week, since I have such a small list of comics to pick up this Wednesday.