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review 2014-07-27 16:20
Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde
Dragon's Bait - Vivian Vande Velde

There is a big difference between
- A romance written in a fantasy setting; and
- A fantasy novel with romance in it.
Most authors do not write a well-balanced story with both elements – to use a famous example, Harry Potter is heavy on the fantasy and very light on the romance. (Unless, of course, if you’re reading fanfiction.)

Dragon’s Bait is neither. It is a story of a girl and a dragon, and as a fantasy novel it is a total fail, because the world-building was not well thought out at all.
- You get a vaguely Middle Age setting, during the time of wide-scale witch hunts. Because for some reason the best way to introduce your main characters to each other was to sacrifice the damsel in distress to the dragon.
- You get a total of ONE dragon, who is a special snowflake of a character. He has special shape-shifting powers.

"Can all dragons change to human shape?" He paused, as though considering how much to tell her. "No," he said, "Only gold-colored dragons have magic."

Which is just strange. You could’ve said that
- Dragons have been blending in amongst humans, pretending to be the same
- dragons could turn into human and have been keeping this ability a secret. Use your imagination. I could think of at least 5 reasons why.
Instead, no, only Selendrile has the ability because he is blonde. Great.

And also, you get inexplicable dragon biology.

I have to be a dragon come dawn or I'll die."
"Why?" He sighed, sounding more tired than exasperated. "Why can't you soar on the wind? Why can't you breathe underwater? Why can't you she'd your skin and turn into a butterfly?"
She didn't understand.

Because Alys is a foolish girl, and Selendrile is one irritating bastard who is always undressing himself in front of her for laughs.

By the light of the torches she saw that his hair was the color the mane had been, palest gold, and it hung almost to his waist. Alys jerked her gaze back up to the face, for she had suddenly—finally—noticed that he wore no clothes. For the first time, the purple eyes flickered with emotion: amusement.

He is always finding amusement at Alys’s expense. And if she was as feisty as the author would’ve liked us to believe, he would not have gotten away with this behaviour half so many times.

"She was flirting with you," Alys explained, lest he think she was laughing at him. "She liked you."

For some reason Alys thinks that a dragon who is
- over 300 years old
- could shapeshift into human form at whim
does not understand the concept of lust/romantic attraction. Right.

The one good thing I could say about the romance it that it is not instalove. The love is implied rather than expressed. But I do not like the characters and I don’t see their attraction to each other being anything deeper than a superficial level.

"Of course I saw you. I wasn't interested until you began to act out of the ordinary."

Speaking of which, “acting out of ordinary” in this case consisted of Alys throwing rocks at a flying dragon when she was supposedly tied to a stake.

Apparently the villagers forgot to tie her hands.

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review 2013-06-06 00:00
The End Was Not the End: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Tales
The End Was Not the End: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Tales - Joshua H Leet,Bonnie Wasson As intellectually stimulating as it is, I found The End Was Not the End to be emotionally hollow. Joshua H. Leet has done a masterful job of putting together a collection of Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Tales . . . but that's precisely the problem.

Fantasy is, by it's very nature, a genre of hope and heroism. It's all about tales of grand adventure, noble quests, and epic battles. There's may be a darkness approaching, or even directly overhead, but there's always the knowledge that a glimmer of light exits somewhere just beyond the horizon. It's a genre the embraces the struggle to rise above ones oppressors, and to engage in the dogged pursuit of justice.

With The End Was Not the End there is little hope, and no valiant acts of heroism. Adventures and battles are doomed before they begin, and quests are a forgotten luxury of a bygone era. The darkness has come to stay, to settle upon the land, and to swallow all within it. There is no light upon the horizon. The only struggle that matters is that of basic survival, and if there are any dogged pursuits to be found outside that struggle, they are for vengeful retribution.

Artistically, this is a stellar collection, with some exceptionally well-told tales. On an intellectual level, I appreciated their telling, not to mention the creative hurdles required subvert the positive tropes of the genre. Emotionally, however, I found it hard to connect with any of the tales, and harder still to become invested in the characters or their fates.

The Halls of War was a great opener to the collection. Here, Deedee Davies subverts just about everything about the genre, presenting us with post-apocalyptic tale where even mankind's demon conquerors must suffer through the end. There's an aspect of anti-heroism here, and perhaps the brightest of the increasingly bleak endings to follow.

Blood and Fire quickly changes pace on us, presenting us with a story that originally seems to be borne of epic quests and heroic adventure sts, but which slowly reveals its bleak, hopeless, coldly calculated waste of human lives.

Make Way for Utopia changes things up again, giving us a more traditional tale, with a very clever twists upon the Arthurian legends. What Scott Sandridge says about the disposable nature of entire realities, and the pragmatic acceptance of risking the end of others, probably feels a bit more biting for the company, but I enjoyed the way this one developed.

Twenty Year Plan struck me as the cruelest of the lot, a coming-of-age story that concludes with a horrifying truth about the monsters around us. Nightmares and Dragonscapes offers an interesting take on the very real fear of what might happen to a world where dragons are neither rare not benevolent. The Stone-Sword is another subversion of the Arthurian legends, and one where the sword-in-the-stone is not a symbol of hope and renewal, but of tragedy and failure.

In the Hills Beyond Twilight, Blade of Fire, and Waist Deep are all very strange little stories, the kind of unusual fantasy tales that could only exist in a collection such as this. There is a little dark humor to be found in this batch, but it a guilty, creepy, awkward manner.

Ben was a difficult story to read, a very spiritual tale, and not necessarily an uplifting one. Darra L. Hofman offers up a future where a good boy brutally murders others out of love, and where the young woman signing Christian rock tunes tries to convince him it's all okay, because he has good intentions. I think I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending.

Story’s End wraps things up very nicely, offering up a very different take on gods than the story before it. Like the story that started it all, there is an element of heroism here, but against a very discouraging backdrop. It's a story of humanity, of casting aside all the pettiness that brought about our various ends, and getting back to the animals that we are.

Maybe it's the bleakness of it all, or maybe it's the pessimism that comes with knowing the end has already come, but this was a difficult collection to review, as much as I appreciated it. I found myself having to walk away after each story, unable - or perhaps unwilling - to subject myself to another grim, protracted demise. It's probably not all as grim and hopeless as I made it out to be, and I'm sure different readers will see something else within the stories, but there's no mistaking the fact that Joshua H. Leet succeeded in his goal of capturing the cycle of destiny.

Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins
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