Book Review

Never Deal with Dragons by Lorenda Christensen


Title: Never Deal with Dragons
Author: Lorenda Christensen
Publication Info: Carina Press 2013
ISBN: 9781426895869
Genre: Paranormal

Book Never Deal with Dragons

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.

Problem: Villain

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.

Problem: Hero

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. 

Problem: Ending

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.

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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Anne says:

    I read this book and had some of the same problems as you, Sarah, but overall it worked better for me.  That’s probably because I have a thing for dragons.  It still was frustrating that Myrna kept cutting Trian off before he could tell her important things.  I think that’s part of why he never did a really good grovel – she kept cutting him off!  (Imagine Jerry MacGuire.  What if Renee Zellwigger’s character had actually interrupted him after he said “Hello”?  That’s what Myrna was like sometimes!)

    Still, it was a really interesting world, and I hope she writes another one.  I’ll give her writing another try.

  2. 2
    Gwen says:

    Yes!!! Exactly!!!

    Also, it all became very serious in that last third. No more humor to be found.

  3. 3
    Bamaclm says:

    I started this book but then lost interest. However, I think the cover was worth the price.  ;-)

  4. 4
    Kate L says:

    Completely agree with you on this read. In fact, my negative reaction to the last third of the book is so strong that I’m very hard pressed to remember the ending, and I read it only last week! I can usually forgive a few flaws in an otherwise entertaining book, but there is just something about what happens when a wonderful main character disintegrates in the way Myra does by the ending. It just KILLS me as a reader.

    It’s such a shame because the first half of the book is completely engrossing. Now I will NOT be looking for the 2nd book.

  5. 5
    Chris J. says:

    I have a friend who describes that sudden onslaught of stupidity for plot’s sake as “deus ex stupida.”

  6. 6
    CS says:

    Totally agree!! I kept thinking someone had switched books on me.  Really enjoyed first half of book—after that not so much…with a lot of head scratching!!

  7. 7
    Aarann says:

    THANK you! I had the same problems. Plus, maybe it’s because I’ve been mainlining G.A. Aikens “Dragons” series, but one of the twists seemed completely clear-cut to me from the beginning of the book. And the second “big” twist at the end was laughably neon-sign-like in its obviousness. I’m not sure if the author had a deadline and just thought, “Oh crap, I can’t do what I wanted to with this – it will take an additional 50 pages I don’t have time for. I’ll throw this together instead.”

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    @Chris YES. THAT IS EXACTLY IT. She had a major case of Deus Ex Stupida.

  9. 9
    Jo says:

    Yes. All of this. I thought she forgave him far too easily and YES, big obvious bad guy behaviour and she missed all of it, I mean, really? @Chris, Deus Ex Stupida is my new favourite phrase:)

    Personal36: yes I am 36 and nope, not so personal now ;)

  10. 10
    Psychbucket says:

    Dangs, that sounds like a far more frustrating reading experience than a book that was complete suckiness from beginning to end.  This was more like the literary equivalent of coitus interruptus—all that lovely potential and build up winding up as no damn fun at all.  *sigh*  Thanks for steering me clear of another book until it reaches the thrift store.

  11. 11
    Betty Fokker says:

    Okay, now I want to read this book because I want to see just how bad a trip it takes to Crapland. It sounds interesting and I want to read the really good first parts, but honestly the sole reason I am going to buy it is to see the carnage.

  12. 12
    Smokey says:

    I was not quite as angry about the Big Stupid Oversight at the end of the book as other readers and the last third did not spoil my taste for further books from this author.  I think there are two reasons for that.  First, I had the impression that the heroine was kind of a naif and a bit dumb from the start of the book.  Her emotional tantrum reaction to the hero she has not seen in a year is an example of the naif/dumb state of mind she is thinking with.  Second, I recently got really angry with another book’s heroine when the book jumped me with a “You’ve got to be kidding me in a bad way” Big Stupid at the end of the book.  24 hours later I was less angry and in the mood to upgrade the book.

    I agree that Never Deal with Dragon’s heroine made one of the biggest mistakes I have ever read.  If there was just one thing she needed to make sure of for her job and her love life that mistake killed it.  And killed other characters as well.  I was not as sure as SB Sarah was about her overall competence to begin with but this heroine messed up the single most important thing she was supposed to do.  And, as the book ended, she really was not getting consequences equal to her error.  Not even a thought from the heroine along the lines of “this is where I fucked it all up.” 

    Anger indeed.  But I thought this was an overall fun book.  Easy read, novel ideas about dragons and humans, wit and nice descriptive prose.  And yes, another young and dumb redhead.

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