Patricia Briggs,
Dragon Blood
(Ace, 2003)

In Once-Upon-a-Time Land, all things are possible ... especially dragons (which I rather like). The proper sort of dragon is well-mannered and well-intentioned, like Oreg, in Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs. It is no wonder that he is the role model for young Wardwick of the kingdom of Hurog. Ward says, early on, that Oreg "looked young and vulnerable, and I looked big and dumb. Neither happened to be true." Oreg is not a generic dragon and Ward is almost a lord, even if his castle keep is in ruins and the amount of rubble is appalling.

Ward is engaged in large-scale demolition and rebuilding of the castle keep, but it is slow work. His work force, the dwarves, come and go, and another group comes two days a week. Ward wants granite walls to foil the battering rams of an enemy and amenities, later, like skylights and strong hinges for the great doors. For the present, walls of rubble must do.

One fine day, fate intervenes. Tisala, the splendid warrior-daughter of Lord Haverness, is found wounded in the northern reaches of Hurog. She is seeking Ward and is carrying a message of import for his family. The experts in the king's department of spies and special agents now have no idea where she is since her escape from them. If she recovers, her firsthand knowledge of the infamous prison, the Asylum, may prove valuable to the king's bitter enemies, the rebel forces.

Suddenly, the power struggle, once so removed from Hurog, is real. There is a reason for aidiing the rebels, one that will involve Ward, Oreg and Tisala in a dangerous mission of mercy. Whatever the king has waiting as a punishment, it involves magic, a volatile remnant of the past.

Patricia Briggs writes an entertaining, often witty novel about what, in other hands, would be stock dragons and dungeons stuff. The characters actually have character -- they are loyal, dependable and resourceful ... unless they are despicable and traitorous. Ward and Oreg are stand-out heroes, and six-foot-tall Tisala (who never curtseys, if she can help it) will be the heroine of the year if she lives through the battle that changes everything. There are some touching scenes here and there that bear rereading when the book is finished and the positives are considered. They reveal a depth of awareness in contrast to the turmoil of the vivid action scenes.

If readers enjoy a wry sort of take on costume drama and characters of intelligence and charm, this may do the trick.

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 19 April 2003

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