Dragon Bound (A Novel of the Elder Races)
by Thea Harrison
4 spangles out of five
Contemporary fantasy, though some blurbs call it urban fantasy.
This book won the 2012 RITA (Romance Writers of America's highest award) for Best Paranormal Romance. I can see where it would get high scores. The writing is often lush, the action scenes jumping with swash. Its voice is light since its heroine is not very serious. Well, some of the time she isn't.
The cast is filled with brooding alpha males who are also shape-changers—Wyr—in that they can change into a dragon, griffin, bunny rabbit, what have you. Everyone has their own specialty and will likely get their own volume in the series. These people have lived openly (well, they're known) alongside mere humans for a few centuries now. There's even been some interbreeding, which is how we wind up with Our Heroine, Pia, who is half-human and half-Wyr, though she doesn't know what kind of Wyr she is. (Thanks to a conveniently close-mouthed mother who is now conveniently dead. Or dead-ish.)
I'm not a huge fan of these kind of shape-changers, be they werewolves or gargoyles. I rather suspect that if I'd grown up with the cartoon Gargoyles, I might be. Shape-changing gives a hero an excuse to be all growly and fiercely protective of his mate in an un-PC way, so it allows the romance genre the chance to have a 100%, unrepentant alpha male as a hero.
The book gives us a good bit of world-building for the magical elements and sort of how the Wyr & co. came to be (Our Hero's origin is very nicely presented, to the point where at times though he was portrayed as being the Biggest, Baddest Guy Around I wondered why he wasn't, well, MORE. He should be a god.), but never explains to my satisfaction how everything fits into modern society to the point where there's a readily-recognizable modern human society still extant. I'd have thought such would have skewed things radically and the two societies would be hopelessly intertwined. The Wyr still have their secrets but Our Hero Dragos, emperor of the Wyr (as opposed to the Dark Elves, the other Elves, and I forget what other enclaves), keeps his huge fortress smack in the middle of New York City with little to no effect on the human community that surrounds him. (Until he roars one day and causes all kinds of havoc.)
Our Heroine, Pia, is a frightened mouse of a (half-Wyr) woman... unless she's a spunky daredevil... unless she's a passive possession of a dragon... unless she's the most skilled and deadly woman on the planet. I wanted a character whom I would recognize throughout the book, even as she grew into her character arc. Instead I got up and down moods and abilities that let the plot determine them, instead of the other way around. She didn't grow as much as fell into her fate.
I was surprised how much the beginning of the book really grabbed me and kept me reading. I wasn't expecting such a friendly author's voice, reflecting the young, modern heroine. (An excerpt of the next novel shows the same voice at work there.) Eagerly each night I returned to it—until the Saggy Middle came into view. There we had multiple info dumps (okay, it's the first volume of a series and things need to be established, but don't we have time to dump info more subtly?), description of how ritzy and über-cool everything was, and the heroine truly went into schizo mode, embroidered with the old "this heroine is the most beautiful, daintiest, most deadly, most desirable, most remarkable person on the planet and oh, how all the men now lust after her though she never had that problem before" meme.
Most horribly of all, I could see echoes of two of my own books in all the Mary Sue-ishness. Ack! Death to Mary Sue. Kill! Kill! Luckily, one of those books is still in wip form and can be corrected toot sweet! (I do hope I toned down the other one before publication.)
There was also a recurring prose problem: I often had to reread to figure out who was doing what to whom. Antecedents and references were iffy in all too many places. Where was the editor?
But to me the book also brought out why I often dislike romances: The romance is all they've got to offer the reader. Even then, it usually goes only skin-deep. Here our hero loves our heroine because she's a change of pace, but also because there's just something about her (what?) that calls to him, and she's great in bed. Our heroine loves our hero because he's gorgeous, fabulously rich and powerful, because there's just something about him (what?) that calls to her, and he's great in bed.
But shouldn't romance go deeper than that? Shouldn't the couple share a way of looking at the world? Attitudes? Customs? A love of scrapbooking? Something that will keep them together for all eternity after the looks and sexual prowess fade or grow too familiar?
Oh, I'm not just talking this book now. I'm talking about one hell of a lot of romances, which is why instead I write books "with Strong Romantic Elements" (that's an official sub-genre, though the RWA has now turned up its official legal nose at it), and sometimes they aren't even that strong. Okay, my historical (Burgundy and Lies) was the exception, but even then the couple shared something deeper than just lust for looks.
And yet I love an inordinate number of Regency romances. There you often find just the romance, and usually a desperate one at that (women had to get married for security since they had practically zero legal status), but it's all liberally peppered with a struggle against society's rules, and the approach between the couple in question is often humorous, with clever, entertaining dialogue. Even so, when I read a Regency in which something ELSE is at stake—like perhaps the heroine is secretly a writer of a gossip column in order to earn money to keep herself and her orphaned brothers alive—a thrill runs through me and I settle back expecting a story I'll remember long afterward.
But this review is about this particular book, not romances in general. Definitely give it a try, if you're into romance and dragons in a modern setting. Much of it will capture your attention, though I don't think you'll find the rather cliché characters memorable after you close the book. They're fun for what they are. Enjoy the action and don't think too hard about logical explanations. Dragon Bound would make a very pleasurable vacation read.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Alas, the clouds didn't break until I was halfway home. Instead for the next few days when it wasn't raining it was drizzling and if it wasn't doing any of that, it looked like it might do it at any moment.
I found my hotel with a bit of trouble, since I was thinking that Kitty Hawk was south of Kill Devil Hills and so panicked when I got to KDH and hadn't seen the right cross-street. Bogue Island consists of two north-south roads, one of which is the highway, and zillions of cross streets. Street #1 will go past House #1. The next street will run past the front of the house that is crammed up against the back of House #1.
I'm not going to tell you the name of my hotel. It was clean, the bed was comfy, the free breakfast good enough for hotel breakfasts (scrambled eggs and bacon were served in addition to the normal cereals, waffles & fruits). Signs indicated that people could NOT take their own luggage to their rooms; staff had to do it. However, no tipping was allowed. This all was because the elevator was located on the second floor. It took two VERY steep ramps to get to it, ramps that even the experienced staff managed with difficulty. Stairs accompanied the ramps, but these were definitely out of code since the tread was so lengthy.
Stairs on the outside down to the beach were also completely out of code, but this time it was the riser that was off. Those things must have been at least 11 inches high. It was like climbing a mountain. I saw disabled customers who would never have been able to make it down to the beach.
The reason I'm not saying the name of the hotel is because there was no security from the beach into the hotel or the swimming pool. Card readers were placed at the outer doors, but they had been disabled. Perhaps the hotel thought that no burglar/rapist in their right mind would navigate those awful stairs!
I'd specified ocean view and got a balcony with a terrific view of the ocean, looking dead east. I'd hoped to be able to do some plein air paintings of sunrise over the Atlantic. Unfortunately it was only the final day, when I was in a rush to get on the road, that the clouds parted a bit—though I never saw the sun itself.
The wind was howling or close to it the entire time, and when I traveled down to Hatteras there were lots of kites peeking over the dunes. Occasionally the dunes would disappear and I'd see guys being lifted a good 20 feet into the air over the water by their kites. I also saw slews of windsurfers.
Oddly enough, I didn't see much difference in tides. I'd go out during high tide; go out during low; no difference I could see. Were we having gravitational anomalies?
I got supper in a nearby recommended restaurant: Miller's Seafood & Steakhouse. My seafood plate with shrimp, scallops and crab cake, was delicious, but the most surprising thing about the meal was the hushpuppy. It wasn't greasy! It was one of those large round kind, not the little dollops, and was crisp on the outside and cakey on the inside. Perfect. It also came with a piece of cornbread that was mostly the same as the inside of the hushpuppy and didn't really scream "cornbread" at me.
We're still talking food? First of all, I NEVER got crabs at Dirty Dick's Crab Shack, no matter how many billboards he put along Highway 64. Instead I went to Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar and had a lovely fresh tuna salad with a side of (drool) the freakingly BEST clam chowder I have EVER eaten! Imagine the best you've ever had and then triple the yummy. Woof! The waitress said she was sure the website had the recipe, but I haven't been able to find it.
The Jolly Roger had been recommended by the desk clerk. It was decorated in a combination junk yard/ocean motif/Christmas style, with one room's ceiling covered with metallic Xmas paper and hundreds of Christmas ornaments. "What do they do around Christmas?" I wondered. Immediately upon entering and getting a table assigned, the manager asked the hostess, "Why'd you give her THAT table?" in an accusing voice, though she winked at me. The hostess was startled and upset. It was her first day and the manager was giving her a hard time/learning experience in front of me, the customer. I didn't appreciate it.
I also didn't appreciate the waiter sliding into my booth as he took my order. He actually advised me not to order the strawberry shortcake for dessert (after I asked him if the berries were fresh or not), even though it was prominently displayed on the menu. I ordered another prominently-displayed dinner, the seafood lasagna, which came with (??) a side of spaghetti with marinara sauce. The sauce tasted straight out of a jar, and the lasagna held no trace of seafood taste. It was just doughy noodles and LOTS of cheese. I tried, but could not eat it. Looking around, I fully expected Gordon Ramsay to appear, flinging the f-word and spitting out food. The manager was mystified; no one had ever complained before! (Yeah, right.) She offered a gift certificate for lunch the next day and I declined. Bleah!
Down at Hatteras/Buxton I ate at the Captain's Table, an informal cafe that served a nice clam chowder and salad. For my last dinner I decided not to fool around and returned to Miller's (if it hadn't been raining I'd have gone to Awful Arthur's) for some lovely surf & turf. The final morning I had breakfast there and was kind of disappointed. The western omelet was more a large, flat crepe, with the filling chopped much too fine. I prefer the Waffle House version: light, fluffy, with big chunks o' stuff.
Can you see this well? This is Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers' park. On the left is where they took off. Then there's the lawnmower, then there are three markers marking how far the first three flights went on Dec. 17, 1903. Waaaay off there to the right is a marker for something, and the final marker with the fourth powered flight's final position should be, oh dear, I think the "something" marker is covered up. Let's just say the final marker is from this angle about as far from the 3rd marker as that marker is from the starting point. And that's with perspective. (I screwed up and didn't get it on this comp.) That's 120 feet, 175 feet, 200 feet, and 852 feet. Altitude was about 10 feet. The brothers alternated being pilot.
Here's the monument, sitting on the large dune they used to fly gliders off of. The two years previous to the powered flight were spent with figuring out how gliders worked and how one could control them. You can't tell much from this, but that is one looooong walk up there. Plus, at the time the dune was sand, not grassed. There's a picture at the base of the dune as it was back then, and even though dunes change their shape often, this is the same exact shape. I suspect that the building of this monument messed up the dune completely and someone sat there with the photo in hand and directed them on how to reshape it to look like the original. Then they slapped some grass seed on it and shot anyone who walked there until the grass took hold.
The visitors' center has a full-scale mockup of one of the gliders as well as the first airplane. It also has a piece of the actual first plane and some of the cloth from the wing that Neil Armstrong took to the moon and brought back. There's a wonderful, interactive talk the ranger gives to explain everything and encourage people to reach for their own goals in life. The site also has some larger buildings that show a movie (I didn't go), plus the two original shacks that were used as hangar and living quarters in 1903. All this for $4. They should install a funicular to take people to the top of the monument (I don't see it as accessible to folks in wheelchairs; that final climb is a killer!), and a bobsled to go down, and charge $20 for the rides. I'd pay.
The ranger said that the Wright Brothers and their crew lugged their 200+-pound glider up that dune 1000 times during 1902. Yikes!
The ranger's talk starts off with two safety admonitions: to stay on the walkways, as prickly pear and sandspurs abound, with the pear able to penetrate the soles of shoes. The second: how to handle rip currents. Huh? Oh well, apparently as long as they have the tourists, they tell them about this. Good enough.
It rained full-out that afternoon, so I finally finished Maeve Binchy's Evening Class, a very thick and slow (but beautiful) novel that gives a real emotional payoff many times in the story, but especially at the end. (sniff) It's a series of vignettes about the disparate people who take a beginning conversational Italian night course at a high school located in one of Dublin's more down-and-out neighborhoods. Recommended for those who can stay for the long run!
The next day I made sure the gas tank was full and set off for Cape Hatteras and its lighthouse. The desk clerk said it would take 45 minutes. Someone passing by said more like an hour. The actual time? Forever!
I did stop at the Bodie Lighthouse practically first thing along the road. It's undergoing full renovation, and the gray drapery matched the gray skies so well I didn't even see it as I drove by. From there the road is pretty darned empty. It alternates dunes and low scrub on either side of the road. At some points crews were out digging up the dunes on the eastern side that were trying to drape over the road, and replacing the sand a little farther out. I passed lots of dead raccoons, surprised that any animals could survive on what was pretty much sand. A display down in Hatteras said there were even deer in some places, but the animals were hard-put to find fresh water.
A ways down there was another BRIDGE OF LONG LENGTH! I caught a glimpse of the sign: Bonner Bridge, the Horror that the desk clerk had spoken of! Yet it wasn't that bad—not nearly as bad as ol' Virginia Dare—even though I was clutching the wheel pretty hard. I just checked on Wiki and it says that the bridge was built in the early 60s, without environmental impact studies; thus the state spends oodles trying to keep it and its surroundings stable. Thus the work crews dredging.
Nope, the real horror bridge occurred in another part of the drive. All of a sudden warning signs appeared telling us to slow down to 25mph. What is this? I wondered. What it was was a small bridge that looked like the Corps of Engineers had gone door to door, asking for old refrigerators and washing machines, and then stripped their backs off to make the bridge. Uneven metal plates had been riveted side by side, row upon row, to form this so-called bridge. I suppose some storm had washed part of the island out (seems to me I remember a news report after some hurricane or another) and the bridge had been hurriedly patched in. Yeesh.
Occasional towns/tourist spots began to dot the road (I saw a street named "Green Lantern Road"), and finally a bunch of store signs mentioned "Hatteras." There was a large sign by the road that had an arrow and said "Hatteras Light Facility and campgrounds," but I passed it by. Everyone knew the thing was called the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. But then I caught a glimpse of the lighthouse out the side window. I turned around.
That's one thing I noticed about the tourist sites on the Outer Banks. When you get to the actual turn-off, there's a big sign hanging over or to the side of the road. There are no warning signs: "Wright Brothers Monument, next left," nothing like that. It's just BANG, and you'd better be in the correct lane right now.
But there was the lighthouse. Yup. Cape Hatteras. There were no programs, and the walk-up had been discontinued as of the day before (I'd heard the radio announcement). No exciting references to the Graveyard of the Atlantic, no shipwreck remains. So I went to the souvenir shop, got some stuff, and decided to get lunch before I started the long trek back.
Somewhere outside of town was a fishing spot (there are lots of 'em along the way), but instead of a parking area off the road, many cars were parked in the sand along the road. I wouldn't take that chance. But they all seemed to be fine.
A pickup truck was stuck up beyond its rear axle in sand. By the time I came by, a tow truck had appeared, to the great amusement of the assembled crowd of fisherpeople.
My hotel room's outer door allowed both breeze and the howling of the wind through, but I slept well enough. The next day was for traveling home, but I stopped by Jockey's Ridge on the way off of Bodie Island. I thought maybe I could get some great shots in of hang gliders.
|One of the lower dunes at Jockey's Ridge.|
They have lessons at 9 and 2, I think, with actual practice after an hour's instruction. No one had shown up today, so I wandered the grounds. They have a wind generator to power the entire site, and a nature walk that shows you all the animals and flora in the area. After that it's slog, slog, slog through the deep sand, up hills and down. This is what Wilbur and Orville had to lug that heavy glider through. There were a couple tiny fresh-water ponds that had to have resulted from the week's rain, though they had plants living in them.
Well, at least I was getting exercise to counter the long drive ahead. I wanted to see the ocean from the dunes and so climbed one. I saw larger dunes all around. Across the way, on top of one gigantic dune, was a frolicking family. When they came down I asked them if they could see the ocean from the top.
"No," Mom sniffed at me. "I saw the sound, not the ocean. There's a difference, you know." Bitch. Even so, I began to walk up. And up. And then the angle became even steeper.
You know, I'd already seen the ocean. AND the sound. I had lots of pictures. Didn't really need to see it again right now. I turned around to return to the boardwalk. When I turned around from there for a final look at the dunes, I saw a fox scampering across the sand. Cool!
Filled up the car with gas (it was 30¢ more expensive on the Banks than back at home) and took off, this time going 64 all the way to Raleigh, past cotton field after cotton field. The skies suddenly turned blue and cloudless about halfway there. Virginia Dare had been a little less daunting—though not that much—this time over. Speaking of Ms. Dare, I was too tired to check out Manteo and all the Lost Colony stuff there. Maybe next time. Of course, next time I'll come down from farther up north, where scary bridges aren't needed. I hope.
|I did manage one plein air painting. This is 8x10".|
Thursday, October 11, 2012
|"B" is New Bern, and "C" is Oriental.|
Vacation arrived! Mapquest could use a little fine-tuning, but actual highway signage needs a firmer clarification. Twice I veered off the road I should be on, following "Highway 70" signs that turned out to be 70 business. Hwy 70 also didn't like to post speed limits but about once every 20 miles along the more deserted stretches.
But I left Hwy 70 behind and made it around the loooong loop-de-loop bridges hanging over the rivers at New Bern to discover a lovely little city. My friend Karen D., who had offered to show me around if I were ever in the area, had chosen that week to discover Ireland instead, so I made sure to take the introductory trolley tour to get the most historic info. Turns out I made the tour with about 5 minutes to spare, as they started (at least from my hotel) an hour earlier than what I'd been told.
Alice, the woman who narrated the tour as Clancy drove, was a font of information. Seems that Wilmington is known as the "city on wheels" (at least I think that was her phrase) because all the historic places are located in the corner of town bordered by two rivers joining together. If a building was historic and located elsewhere, it soon found itself moved into the historic district.
Alice said she could clearly recall when the riverfront was filled with ugly fuel towers, cranes and commercial whatnot. Not any more! Now it has a neat little park and clean streets dotted with historic sites. She told us about the original owners of the various sites: name after name after name, and eventually we began to see how everyone fit together. She emphasized the history-makers who were Black as well as white; female as well as male. (And the strange thing is that she told us how in one night 4000 Blacks were persuaded to join the Union army during the Civil War. On the trip back home I listened on WUNC radio to a historian who'd just written the biography of the amazing man who got them to do just that. Coincidence?)
The shops downtown are geared toward tourism: quirky stores, restaurants, art galleries. And of course, the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. I didn't go there as it was getting late and frankly, colas don't agree with me these days.
|Tryon Palace (the gardens are around someplace)|
It surprised me that Tryon Palace wasn't the original building. It had been rebuilt in (I think) the 20s, which is why it looks so crisp and new. Its stable is original, though, and George Washington may not have slept there, but his horse did. FYI, Tryon Palace is the symbol of New Bern being the official first capital of North Carolina. (Because people were taxed so dearly to pay for it, there was a small NC rebellion centered in the county next to mine, which resulted in a bunch of hangings that are noted on some historical markers I pass every morning on the way to work.)
There are bears everywhere! On flags, on store windows, sculpted like totem poles, playfully painted upon life-size fiberglass figures. Turns out that "bern" means "bear," and is the symbol of Bern, Switzerland, which is what New Bern is named after. You can get your picture taken next to any style bear you like in a little bear park downtown. No, I didn't see any live ones.
Because of its compactness, New Bern would likely only take a full day and a half to explore. This means I'll have to go back to check out the palace and its gardens at the very least. By the way, Karen, Clancy and Alice say they know you very well and wave hello!
The hotel clerk recommended Morgan's Tavern & Grill. I will never eat there again. The manager (? She didn't wear the same clothes as the others, and gave them orders) was wonderful and ready to take my order, etc at the drop of a hat. Good thing, because my waitress hardly ever showed her face. When the waitress refilled my tea, she didn't bother to refill the ice as well, so I was left with tepid tea. But the manager was super-efficient and friendly.
I ordered the crab cakes and a zucchini/broccoli dish. Though they were presented well, someone had added an odd herb to what should have been a simple veggie dish and rendered it, well, awful. The crab cakes tasted a bit like crab but a lot like nothing, and had no texture.
Ah, but the croissants! They served three as the dinner bread, and they were REAL croissants, not those Burger King doughy things. These were flaky and warm. At first I saw the drizzle of honey on them and said, "Honey with dinner?" and then "Honey on croissants instead of butter? Ruined!" but they were marvelous. Amazing. Heavenly. Nommy-num!
The manager saw I had barely eaten my dinner (I wouldn't have eaten any of it except the croissants, but I was starving), and comped a dessert, which I took home for breakfast. It was an experiment, bread pudding. I'd never met a bread pudding I ever liked, and this was no real exception.
But do go there for the croissants! Mmm!
It's a bit of a rinky-dink town, but it does indeed have a bazillion sailboats moored and ready for fun. One of these days I'll learn to sail.
I checked with a hotelier to confirm directions from Oriental to Nags Head. She told me no no no, don't follow Mapquest's instructions. Skip Hwy 171 and just go straight up 17 to 64. Okay, I did that. And by doing so, added at least 25 miles to the trip.
The roads to the Outer Banks are flat and boring. Sometimes you have 4 lanes and can go 70 mph. Often you have 2 lanes and are stuck at 55 mph with nothing but scrub forest to look at. Occasionally the state puts up "Watch for bears" signs and "Do not feed the bears." I didn't see any bears. I assume they'd gone off to find more interesting venues. (Maybe they moved to New Bern.)
There's one stretch of 64 that's 2 lane, 55 mph, and over an hour long. No rest areas. No gas stations. No civilization of any sort. God help you should you break down.
Then suddenly you're in Columbia, and there's a rest stop! It comes with a wildlife exhibit house next door, and connects with a quaint riverwalk (it's the Scuppernong River) so you can really get out and stretch. I met a 77-year-old man there who'd climbed to the top of the Hatteras lighthouse the day before. That's right, 268 steps, and he'd almost chickened out halfway up. But people kept encouraging him and he advanced flight by flight, baking in the heat of the interior, until he emerged to the cool air at the top.
He said he and his friend go around climbing lighthouses and getting some kind of book stamped for each one they finish. He was proudly wearing his Hatteras Lighthouse tee shirt, and yeah, I said 77 years old. He did not appear to be in athletic shape, but he accomplished more than I would do!
Back on the road. Dull country... dull country... SCARY BRIDGE!!!! The Lindsey C. Warren Bridge is 2.8 miles across the Intracoastal Waterway/Alligator River, and has a draw bridge smack in the middle. I breathed shallowly and kept. my. eyes. on the. center. line. Whew! Through that.
By the time my blood pressure had returned to normal what happens but THE VIRGINIA DARE MEMORIAL BRIDGE comes along and is 5.2 freaking, curving miles over the Croatan Sound. In the middle is a high, arched section. The speed limit is 55. I went 40. My hands kept trying to jerk the car to the right. Just before the large arch, I wanted to stop. After the large arch, when I saw the bridge curving away faaaar into the distance, I wanted to stop in the middle of the roadway, get out and scream AIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
Okay, so I'm a little claustrophic. At my Kitty Hawk hotel the desk clerk said she used to be the same way, clenching the steering wheel hard—so hard she had to replace it because she'd ruined it. "It's not as bad as the Bonner Bridge, though," she confided. Bonner Bridge? That must be one of those things in Virginia, I thought. Virginia has that whole ghastly Chesapeake Bay Bridge thing going, right? She told me that some of the supports for the Bonner Bridge floated and weren't connected to solid land. She and her co-clerk shuddered. Well, that was one thing I didn't have to worry about.
I would learn.
To be continued!