The four stories in this anthology have in common dragon-related plots and romance (in half the stories, one of the lovers is a dragon). The first story deals with a virgin princess kidnapped by a dragon rider. The second story has a knight sent to slay a dragon, who is later persuaded to defend the dragon and the dragon's granddaughter. The third story deals with a Dutchwoman in 17th century Japan who meets a dragon and a samurai while considering her options for the future. The fourth and final story deals with a recently widowed young woman who moves to Santa Fe, where she finds new love and a house with a dragon that needs protecting.
This anthology will probably appeal not only to readers who enjoy romance, but also to readers who love fantasy and dragons. Personally, I preferred the first and third stories (Beverley's and Harbaugh's), but I don't really think any of the stories in this anthology were very weak.
"The Dragon and the Virgin Princess" by Jo Beverley
Princess Rozlinda is an SVP, a Sacrificial Virgin Princess. At the age of 19, Rozlinda has been the SVP for 7 years, and she's thoroughly tired of it. However, she's also very aware of her duty and cares about the fate of her people. Rozlinda's only job is to stay a virgin until either the next girl in line to be SVP starts menstruating or a dragon comes along from the neighboring country. The previous SVP selfishly risked war with the neighboring country by convincing the man she loved to kill the dragon when it came for her, thereby allowing him to win her hand in marriage when he would not otherwise have been able to. Rozlinda is determined to do things correctly this time around, even when the dragon comes earlier than expected. Unfortunately, the man riding the dragon has come to marry Rozlinda, whether she wants him or not, and take her back to his country in the hopes of using her to keep dragonkind alive.
My summary of this story is hideous, but I tried not to give too much away - that can be hard to do, sometimes, with short stories. I found this story to be pretty impressive, and I'd probably recommend it even to fans of dragons who don't normally read romance. For the most part, I enjoyed the characters, and, although there is certainly romance, the story involving the dragons was interesting enough by itself. I'd love to read something else featuring this country full of dragons and their riders.
Beverley writes from both Rozlinda and Rouar's perspectives (Rouar is the dragon rider mentioned in my summary), something that I always appreciate when I'm reading a romance. I liked Rouar and enjoyed reading about the conflict between his budding feelings for Rozlinda and his duty to his country's dragons. I felt that Rozlinda was a bit uneven, though. She's a strange mix of personality traits: she's resilient, willing to make the best of things, and kind, but she's also spoiled. She's much more willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good than her words and thoughts at the beginning of the story led me to believe.
"The Dragon and the Dark Knight" by Mary Jo Putney
Kenrick is a skilled knight whose frightening face and status as an illegitimate son keeps him from getting what he most desires: land, a wife, and children. At the moment, it's peaceful in England, so he and his squire are having a hard time finding a good place to stay during the winter. When Kenrick hears about a baron looking for a champion willing to kill a troublesome dragon, he decides to check things out. If Kenrick is able to kill the dragon, he'll be given the fief of Tregarth as a reward. However, Kenrick discovers that the dragon isn't as bloodthirsty and dangerous as he was led to believe, and he also begins to fall in love with the dragon's part human, part dragon granddaughter.
This story also wasn't bad, although I think non-romance lovers/readers may not enjoy this story as much as the first, since I don't think the overall non-romantic story is as strong. I did really like Kenrick, though. He's a nice guy with a strong sense of honor. Putney makes no attempt to make Kenrick's life seem glamorous - at the beginning of the story, it's clear that he's living hand-to-mouth and has been much-battered by his life as a knight. However, Putney also doesn't make things as gory as she could, either. Kenrick does kill a few people, but since this isn't a dark story by any means, the deaths aren't described in any stomach-churning way.
Ariane (the dragon's granddaughter) was... okay. It wasn't that I disliked her, it's just that I didn't find her very interesting. The romance between her and Kenrick didn't really grab me either. Although Kenrick tells her that he loves her because of her part dragon blood and not despite it, and Ariane is pleased by this news, I'm not sure I would've been as pleased by Kenrick's words if I were her. I think I might've liked it more if he had also talked about the things he liked about her as a person. There's not much that he could've said, though, since he doesn't really know much about her, other than that she can heal and knows how to cook. One of the drawbacks of romantic short stories, and one of the main reasons why I don't often read romance anthologies, is that there often isn't enough time for the hero and heroine to get to know each other and fall in love with each other for reasons that aren't shallow. Kenrick likes Ariane's dragon abilities and her kindness towards him, but I needed more than that for the romance to grab me.
"Anna and the King of Dragons" by Karen Harbaugh
This story takes place in Japan in 1650. Anna Vanderzee is a Dutch physician whose parents have recently died. She is uncertain what to do with her life: it's unlikely she'll be able to practice medicine in either the Netherlands or in Japan, she's not sure she'd even fit in in the Netherlands anymore, and prostitution, the one job she'd have the best chance of getting in Japan, is not something she wants to do. While she's considering her position, Anna slips and almost falls and drowns in a pond, but she's saved by a dragon. The dragon lets her go after Anna promises to bring him books. On her way back to the inn she's staying at, Anna is attacked by bandits and saved by a samurai named Nakagawa Toshiro. Anna keeps her promise to the dragon and asks for Nakagawa's help again. Although the two are falling for each other, Anna doesn't see how it would ever be acceptable to Nakagawa's family for them to marry, and she prepares to go back to the Netherlands. However, there is more to Nakagawa than she realizes.
Of all the stories in this book, I think this one is my favorite. Part of the reason for that is the setting - I have to say, I'm a sucker for all things Japanese. Most of what I know about Japan, Japanese history, the Japanese language, and Japanese customs I learned from the vast amounts of anime I've watched and manga I've read, so I can't really say with any kind of authority how accurate Harbaugh's depiction of Japan is. She uses a little bit of Japanese in the story, especially in the beginning - the phrases and words I recognize seem to be correct, although, as I just mentioned, I'm no expert. Harbaugh also includes a few details of Japanese history and customs. One of my favorite bits in the story is the part where Nakagawa manages to get Anna better clothing from an innkeeper by talking about her status, knowing that the innkeeper is eavesdropping.
In addition to liking the setting, I also enjoyed Anna and Nakagawa. It's too bad more of the story wasn't written from Nakagawa's perspective. Overall, I thought Anna and Nakagawa made a nice couple, and Nakagawa's family had a pretty good reason to accept Anna as Nakagawa's wife.
"Dragon Feathers" by Barbara Samuel
Penny Freeman, widowed before she's even turned 30, has come to Santa Fe to learn to weave from Maria Libelula, a famous weaver who only takes 7 students at a time. Before beginning classes, she manages to find a house that seems perfect for her and that, for some reason, is much cheaper than it should be. In and near her new home, she discovers what appears to be pink-dyed peacock feathers. Her teacher's son, Joaquin, tells her not to show the feathers to anyone, and, sure enough, some of the people who've seen the feathers try to break into Penny's new home. Gradually, Penny discovers where the feathers came from and what her new role is to be. If she chooses to accept her role as a guardian, she can also choose to have Joaquin, the first man she's found attractive since her husband died, as her consort.
I'm not really sure how I felt about this story. Of all the stories in this anthology, it felt the least dragon-related - Penny doesn't see the dragon until late in the story, and, in appearance, the dragon seems like it might be more related to birds than anything lizard-like in appearance. Also, for all that Joaquin says Penny is in danger, it feels like a very sedate and slow-paced story. Mostly Penny floats along, adjusting to life in Santa Fe and life as a widow, learning about the feathers, and thinking about Joaquin. It felt a little like a set-up for a full-length novel that would have a great deal more action (and more romance). I didn't think it was a bad story, but, in my opinion, it was either the weakest or second weakest in the anthology.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)