Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs
Ward of Hurog, Book 2
Ward, ruler of Hurog, joins the rebels against the tyrannical High King Jakoven. But Jakoven has a secret weapon. One that requires dragon's blood. The very blood that courses through Ward's veins.It's been a long time since I read the first book in this series, Dragon Bones, and sadly (as is often the case with me) I didn't remember a lot of the details. Fortunately, the absolute basics were there. Ward, who has been pretending to be a simpleton to protect himself from his father's wrath, must prove his sanity and capabilities when he inherits. He also has to save a dragon, break a curse and defeat invaders.
(Blurb from www.fantasticfiction.co.uk)
Equally fortunately, Briggs makes a point to remind the reader of all the important points, rerevealing them progressively throughout the text rather than dropping everything on the reader in one big infodump. While by the end I still didn't remember every detail of Dragon Bones, I had recovered all the information I needed to enjoy and understand this book. There were moments when I was worried that wouldn't be the case, so let me assure any potential reader that it is safe to trust the author.
Dragon Bones was told by Ward in the first person POV and Dragon Blood starts off with a different character. Tisala's escape from King Jakoven's torturer is told in standard third person POV, the chapter headed with her name. I wasn't sure if the book would continue that way, but by the second chapter, which is titled with Ward's name, we go back to his first person. Chapters are told through whichever eyes Briggs requires to tell the tale, but only Ward uses first person storytelling. This could have been confusing, but I had no trouble with it at all and enjoyed the variety. All the same, it is unusual and readers may like to be warned.
Ward has troubles aplenty in this story, most of them to be laid at Jakoven's door and Briggs doesn't pull her punches when the tale gets a bit nasty. The section where Ward is taken into the king's custody (under the pretext of determining if he really is healthy in mind as well as body and therefore fit to rule Hurog), he is placed in the king's custom-built insane asylum and tortured by the king's pet mages in an attempt to break him. I temporarily stopped reading at this point because it was very far from nice, light reading, but Briggs hasn't failed me yet and I took a deep breath and went back to the book.
Ward defeats the king's machinations beautifully - with some needed help - and the story carries onto into more comfortable territory, featuring such mild things as rebellion, war and assasination! Ward remains a most appealing character in all things we see him do, from fighting for his sanity to fighting for his home and the regard of the woman he has chosen. I was sorry to leave him at the end and would be delighted if Briggs goes back to his world one day.
The minor characters were also a pleasure to read, especially Tisala and Oreg.
Tisala is a strong and capable woman who has had her faith in herself tested but refuses to let it beat her. Ward's understanding that she is a woman he must let stand beside him rather than behind him is exactly what she needs, even if she takes a while to face up to it, and their gentle romance is a pleasure to read.
Oreg was my other favourite character, and while I have a feeling he may have annoyed me at times in Dragon Bones, here I thoroughly enjoyed his presence in the story. He could still be arrogant and potentially annoying, but I guess when you're an ancient dragon who can also appear as a young man, a bit of arrogance is understandable. I loved Ward's frustration as Oreg kept letting people know about him, despite it being meant to be a big secret. This culminated in him appearing as a dragon in front of a hall full of Ward's leigemen in a beautifully written and most dramatic scene.
The climax of the story happens rather abruptly, which was appropriate but a little frustrating. Sure, the immediate problem has been solved, Ward has once again channeled the power of the dragons of Hurog and saved the day, but I would have liked to have seen the fallout of what happened there. There's a kingdom to put back together and a new world order to build and we don't know how that's going to happen.
I've just finished Briggs' latest novel, Iron Kissed, and while the story is completely different, I got the same feeling there - that while it was a dramatic place to stop, the rebuilding of the situation still had to happen and I wanted to see how that worked out. But I've also read others of her books and I don't remember feeling like that, so it isn't a regular occurance.
To stick with the dragons for a moment, as I did read this for a dragon challenge, the brief little scene where Ward rides into the hills for a moment of peace and sees a juvenile dragon in the wild, showing the dragons are rebuilding their own place in Hurog just as Ward is rebuilding the Keep, was a lovely moment.
I will most definitely be reading more of Briggs' fantasy backlist while I wait for her next new urban fantasy novel.
Ward of Hurog, Book 2