Book Review: Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland
Series: Stand Alone/Book 1
Publisher: Tor (9/1/15)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Dragon Heart has a delectable premise, touting a princess, a dragon, and a castle by the sea. Its cover and description also suggests a traditional epic fantasy, but with an author who is a renowned historical fiction novelist at the helm, you just know there will be more to it than that. Indeed, the book definitely turned out a lot different than I expected, though perhaps not in the way I would have liked. I wish I could give it a more positive review, but the truth is, after a strong start the story quickly lost its steam.
This novel actually centers upon the lives of five siblings, though for most of the beginning we are led to believe that youngest daughter Tirza would be the main protagonist. Mute and simple Tirza is in truth a lot more than she seems, but the royal family has sent her away to a monastery nonetheless, where she can be hidden away and forgotten. Outside her world though, things are changing. The Empire of the east grows more powerful every day, and under a new treaty, Tirza’s mother the widow Queen Marioza must marry one of the emperor’s brothers.
The book begins with Tirza’s twin brother Jeon arriving at the monastery to fetch her for the wedding. But as the two siblings return home by sea, their ship is attacked by an enormous red dragon. Tirza ends up being taken by the dragon and is then held captive in its secret lagoon. To her amazement, she discovers that the beast understands her when she talks to it in her strange language of growls and screeches. Forming an attachment, the dragon vows to hunt down and recapture her if she ever slips its grasp, though Tirza is undeterred and one day manages to escape, fleeing back to her family at Castle Ocean.
All this happens in the first chapter, and alas, it was probably the most interesting chapter in the book. The dragon appears early, which was a high point for me, but it was just too good to last. After this, you won’t see the creature again for a good long time, and even then the nature of its bond with Tirza is never quite explored. Their relationship baffles me. Is it friendship or Stockholm syndrome? How is it that the two of them are able to communicate? Where did the deeper connection between them come from? Truth be told though, probably the less said about that overtly sexual scene involving Tirza and the dragon tongue-bath, the better.
Once we get back to Castle Ocean, there were some elements that I liked. We are introduced to the rest of Tirza’s family, starting with Queen Marioza, who is clearly a force to be reckoned with. The emperor has already tried to make her marry one of his brothers, whom she promptly put in the grave. Unfortunately, this next suitor isn’t going to be so easy to get rid of, but her children trust that she will find a way. In addition to the twins Tirza and Jeon, there are also second and third daughters Casea and Mervaly as well as oldest son and heir Luka. Each one of the royal children end up playing a role in the ensuing political storm, which had its moments.
Problem was, I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and didn’t really care about any of them. Quite simply, there were just too many to keep track of and not enough time to truly get to know anyone. In addition to the royal family, we also occasionally got the points-of-view of an imperial soldier named Pal Dawd as well as a village girl named Amillee. It was too much and too fast, almost like Holland was trying to cram all the dynamics and complexities of Game of Thrones into this tiny package which comes in at just under 300 pages. While certainly ambitious, this tale regrettably falls quite short of its mark.
Most tellingly, the thing that most frustrated me about this book was how it left me cold. Whether they affect me positively or negatively, most stories usually leave me with a sense of resolution or fulfillment. On the other hand, after reading Dragon Heart my mind drew a complete blank. I didn’t even wholly dislike this novel, but I can’t give it more than a middling rating. I definitely felt like there was so much the book could have achieved. Unfortunately for me, it just never quite got there.