There’s a lot to enjoy here. A dragon. A fast moving plot. A dragon. Realized settings from NYC to London to Berlin to Cairo. Oh, and a dragon. It starts as a simple plot: an age-old enemy is trying to kill Ben, the only dragon left walking the earth. He represents his species while the rest slumber as part of a Compact (aka The Magna Carta), awaiting the return of the Fae. What was less enjoyable was the abundance of forced purple prose that did nothing for the story but serve as a distraction.
“The man called Fulk grinned, a self-satisfied leer breaking through his shaggy black beard. Coupled with the curls falling to his shoulders, his head resembled a small, savage dog, ready to pounce from a thick leather pedestal. ‘London. Paris. LA.’ Fulk named the cities of his search, each one a wasp flying from his mouth.”
I tell you, I stopped comatose on the rail with that one (see what I did there?), trying to picture a dog sitting on a bar stool pedestal–for some reason a pug kept coming to mind, although they don’t have curly hair. And the ‘words as wasps?’ Okay, ‘stinging’ must be what he wants but what is so harsh about place names? He’s basically just complaining he had to look all over for the dragon. Well, yeah. Last one left and all that. Like it’s the dragon’s fault to not have a physical address that says ‘kill me here.’
“‘It was yesterday to us,’ Fulk said, the claim escaping through gaps in his teeth.'”
What? Why should the claim ‘escape?’ Are we making fun of poor dentition? Does he mean ‘hissed,’ or something?
“‘The sword Fulk drew from the scabbard on his back was a guillotine on the barman’s words. The youth scuttled backwards, bottles and cocktail sticks crashing to the floor, panic greasing his heels.”
It’s like dragon MadLibs. Instead of ‘cutting someone off,’ we get “guillotine” and ‘words.’ ‘Bottles’ crash, but cocktail sticks don’t. ‘Panic greasing’ just sounds weird. A sentence or two later: “Ben watched them leave in peripheral envy.” Uh, what? Out of peripheral vision? Or with a shred of envy? Then “he grimaced, his teeth clenched with dull yellow effort. The sword came up, came down, scoring a line through shadow and sawdust…” Yellow effort? I don’t even know what that is. Did he mean ‘grey’ with effort? Or wait, I figured it out–these are malpropisms by a dragon. Or an alien. The author isn’t really human! Now it makes sense.
“The wind off the Hudson stoked the embers of his hair as he scanned the shattered facade.” Because our hero is red-headed, I guess. This is so weird. Why didn’t he just say it ‘ruffled his hair’? Now I think his head is on fire, like a Q-tip dipped in lighter fluid.
“The debris supported the article’s claim that the thieves had fled the exhibition this way, but the fact seemed as lonely as an abandoned lighthouse.” Because the lonely fact used to provide guidance to ships at sea? Because the fact used to warn about rocks? This language is amazing to me, and not not a good way.
I can’t stop myself. Another: “Babe Cathy’s lips were a fishbone, rattling out an incantation, and he stumbled to a halt, watching her.” For the life of me, I couldn’t picture any way that made sense in this mix of audio and visual. Pursing her lips? Why are they rattling? Let alone why the dragon is watching her instead of kicking her butt.
Last one, I swear: “Her sore feet tingled on stone and she moved forwards as if through water, a subtle magnetism drawing her on, the sense of little teeth nipping at her budding breasts.” What. The. Hell? Why he didn’t just stop after ‘water,’ and leave a perfectly good metaphor alone, I don’t know. Not sure where the magnetism got it’s teeth, either. Why’d we have to bring boobies into it? Voyeurism? Creeper.
Ok, I lied. “Before leaving the Gold Street apartment, Ben dug around in the bedroom closet and unearthed a pair of trainers, lurking in the gloom like stuffed rats.” Those are some seriously gross shoes.
I can’t stop! Somebody take this Kindle away from me. “His hair was a blizzard atop his skull, his pyjamas disarrayed.” It’s the HEAT MISER!
Still, not the worst specimen of writing I’ve read. It took me quite a few chapters to train myself to ignore the style, because otherwise I would have been highlighting all damn day. I thought Bennett nicely conveyed a sense of age/longevity to Ben, unlike some other urban fantasy authors (hello, Hearne!) I loved the scene in the Berlin–fun dialogue, interesting backstory, evocative imagery. The plot is decent, except for the stupid romance aspect, by which I mean we get a lot of romance flashback bracketed by a lot of stupid miscommunication and assumptions between the parties. It doesn’t make sense, anyhow, that a centuries old dragon would pine over a woman.
The villains are well done and appropriately hateful, but there’s also some sophisticated subplots with characters who are mislead into action. The inclusion of the village witch-woman and her own gods was interesting but honestly felt a little incongruous with the rest of the story. However, it was one of my favorite parts of the book. There’s a fairy-tale substory in here that is supposed to be Ben’s past, and his past with the enemy. Again, kind of incongruous with a vastly different writing style. It is also basically a red herring, giving a bit of insight into why Ben is ridiculous about women, but not any insight into the plan the villains are hatching.
It is also worth noting that my copy had a chapter from the next book, and the writing style and narration was considerably more concise. Now, that might be a fun book. There’s a good chance I’ll read the next book based on that chapter, but I’ll be crossing my fingers, hoping for less strained writing.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Orbit Books for an advance reader copy.