I wrote about this book in my last “Whatcha Reading?” post, specifically how I was drawn in by the first line, then the first chapter of this book. The first half, maybe even the first two-thirds are awesome fun. I stayed up too late reading, I was so absorbed and entertained I started reading a few pages while standing around the kitchen while the Kindle charged. I was hella into this book.
Then it went off the rails and deflated so badly, I've been stewing about it for hours. HOURS. DAYS now, actually. What began as a promising and slightly silly-fun dragon fantasy romance became disappointing and infuriating in the rushed ending.
I can't understate how much I was charmed and looking forward to this story after reading the first chapter. The heroine, Myrna Banks, is a dragonspeaking mediator in an office in Tulsa that specializes in mediating conflicts between the dragon population and the human population. When the story opens, she's in the middle of a negotiation between a large, pregnant and very hungry dragon who has just eaten some cows belonging to a very irate farmer (irate because he's now short a few cows). The problems Myrna juggles, large and small, are all packed into her very messy office in the first chapter: her boss, Emory, is a fraud who pretends her work is his own and who doesn't really like dragons all that much anyway. Myrna works for Emory because of a past incident in her work history that caused her to lose possession of some confidential files – a very big problem for her professionally, hence her demotion. The files were absconded with by Trian, her ex boyfriend who disappeared at the same moment the files did (they were together, after all) and of course, who walks back into her life that day? Trian, duh. So she's got awful boss, vomiting dragon, wailing farmer, politically delicate negotiation for remuneration for said farmer as said vomiting dragon is related to the local dragon lord, plus her ex-boyfriend and a whole lot of mess in her office.
What I loved about the opening scenes (they are first person, be ye warned those who dislike person of the first) is that there's a simultaneous appreciation in the narration of the silliness of the situation (hurling pregnant dragons and crying farmers!) and the importance of the situation (angry farmer can't be allowed to retaliate against the relative of a dragon lord) and the frustrated competence of the heroine reflects that balance. She has to do her job as best as she can because, well, that's who she is, even though she knows her boss will interfere and claim responsibility for her actions.
The hero is a somewhat shady character; despite the first person POV, Myrna interprets his facial expressions and gestures frequently, often within the realm of hurt befuddlement that she's pissed at him (more on that in a moment). As the day continues, Myrna is drawn into a very complicated diplomatic situation and volunteers herself to negotiate an inter-dragon dispute that could be deadly for everyone involved. Trian is somehow involved, as is his boss, Richard, who is sort of the consigliere of the dragon lord's household, and the three of them, along with Myrna's best friend, end up traveling considerable distances and enduring some rather nasty battles before the situation is resolved.
As I said, two thirds in, I was all in, having a good time. Then it collapsed. Here are the major problems.
The larger villain is not well hidden at all. I couldn't tell if the bad guy was supposed to be a surprise for the reader and the heroine, but it wasn't a surprise to me. For the first two-thirds of the book, the heroine is smart, clever, and really, REALLY good at recognizing what is going on beneath the surface of what people are saying and doing. She is seriously so, so neat. She can identify the balance of power in a situation within moments, she thinks on her feet and she's very savvy – all of which are very good skills as a mediator between two very different groups, the dragons and the humans.
But at the point when the most danger was present, the supposedly-mysterious villain became so obvious to me, she looked dumb. Really dumb. She missed several major signals that something wasn't right, and even remarked on them – then ignored them. This didn't fit because (a) I liked her better when she wasn't a dumbass, and (b) she is a character who until the book went south could identify subtle signals that would indicate a shift or vulnerability in the people she was dealing with – friend or foe. She was always analytical, until she wasn't because she had to get stupid in a hurry to sustain the plot tension.
For her to miss the one or two HUGE MOMENTS OF OMG THAT IS A BAD PERSON was frustrating. I no longer believed in her as the heroine, or admired her nearly as much, and her role was what kept me engaged. She was an excellent introduction into the world of this book because she could explain what was happening plus what was ALSO happening that anyone looking at the situation superficially might miss. She was fluent in so many subtleties of the dragon and human world that for her to miss the villain's villainy was mind blowing. She saw signals and signs in her world that I didn't. When the situation was reversed, and I was the one seeing things that she was happy to ignore, I lost interest in her and in the book, and started to skim.
For fuck's sake, the bad person explains his motive! IN DEPTH! Grr. I'm still stewing.
I liked her because I could see how intelligent and clever and quick thinking she was, and when she stopped being any of those things, it was a slog to the end. It's one thing to have a surprise villain. it's another to have one that compromises the intelligence of the hero and heroine. BECAUSE GODDAMMIT THERE WAS PRACTICALLY A BILLBOARD. WITH LIGHTS. BIG LIGHTS.
The hero moves into reconciliation mode WAY too quickly. He disappeared without a word, left her in a bad situation personally and professionally, and KNEW what he was doing. I could not figure out HOW he was surprised that she was still pissed off at him when he shows up in her life again. How is it news that she's not happy to see him? He moves to hug her in one scene and I was like, “You have got to be fucking kidding me. Back off, shitbag.” He should have known better, and know that because of the circumstances under which he left her, she'd be upset and hurt and unsure why he did what he did.
But his moves toward hugging reconciliation are brushed off half-heartedly, and in my opinion she forgives him too quickly. I wanted more grovel and more attention to the damage he did to their relationship and to her career, especially when she finds out the reason their relationship existed in the first place. He had a lot of negative ground to make up to break even as acceptable as a hero in my eyes, and he didn't get there.
As I mentioned, in the end, the twist was telegraphed so far in advance, I was annoyed with the heroine for NOT seeing what was increasingly obvious. But I still rooted for her and wanted her to succeed – until the very end. I can't really talk about it without spoiling the hell out of the very end, which I don't want to do, but in the very end something catastrophic happens, and …crap how do I explain this?
Ok. The heroine is fascinated by dragons, and unlike some humans, has pretty positive feelings about them. As part of her job, she's learned dragonspeak, and can fluently translate dragon language to humans and vice versa. With that language fluency comes empathy for both parties – which is part of why she's an excellent mediator.
In the final scenes, something catastrophic happens to some ancillary characters, some of whom aren't named characters, and the lack of caring or grief from the heroine was so jarring and upsetting to me. In the first half of the book, she cares deeply for the dragonkind. In the end, her lack of empathy and real reaction was ill-fitting and destroyed what little respect I had left for her (since she already had descended into the realm of really stupid by that point).
The world in which this book takes place is fascinating. It's fun and different and because Myrna the mediator is our introduction and tour guide of sorts, the reader gets to see the layers of that world. Because of her job, it's very clear there are no easy answers, and diplomacy is a very useful and under-appreciated skill set. (Thus when the bad guys become VERY BAD GUYS FULL STOP, the lack of ambivalence and layered portrayal was jarring and unfortunate. The story ends with clearly bad no-question full on villainy stuck into a story that was very much about negotiating a world in which there is no clear right and wrong.) (Can you tell how much the thin, stock, cartoony evil villainy bothered me?) (It did. A lot.)
Once I knew what was going to happen, it became a lot less fun to read for the last third. Which is a huge shame because the first 2/3rds were HUGE fun. One flaw to the world building was the repetitious nature of the descriptions (guess what. THERE ARE ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSES. How do I know? The characters talked about them and the heroine told me and other people about them. A LOT) but because there was so much to learn about and translate, I started out very happy to follow along with the heroine, despite the repetitive nature of the descriptions. I was SO into this book, until the characters stopped thinking and became pawns in the hands of the plot and I was over the lot of them.
There was potential in the development of ambivalent evil characters, and characters who aren't pure good or pure bad — the number of them in the beginning of the book, including the hero, was wonderful. By the end, the super pure baddest bad was less interesting than all the ambivalent and nebulous characters, only I was supposed to care about the big bad because the big bad was about to do big bad things and Ihad to figure it out.