Jade Lee is a flexible author, indeed. Her previous books have covered the darker side of Regency England, as well as taking readers to Imperial China. Now, she turns her hand to fantasy romance. Dragonbound contains a lot more darkness and tragedy than the average romance I read, but somehow it makes the HEA seem especially sweet when it finally comes.
This book really tells two stories, one set in the past and one in the present. As with life, one must know the past in order to understand the present. Rather than telling the story in linear fashion, the book alternates chapters set “now” with chapters set “then.” In this fashion, readers learn of Sabina’s childhood calling as a dragonmaid and of her service to the Copper Dragon of Ragona. Though Sabina goes into this position knowing that dragonmaids lead difficult lives and that previous dragonmaids have gone mad, she forms a unique attachment to the dragon Cordain and that emotional bond sustains her amidst all manner of horrors.
In the present time, the feared emperor of Ragona has been deposed and, while there are hints of violent overthrow given early on, the reader will not learn the full story until much later. As the book opens, Sabina has sought out the dragon Cordain, now in human form (sounds weird, but it gets explained well, I promise you). She has lost nearly everything, Ragona faces infiltration from hostile powers and, as Sabina and Cordain travel together, their past and present gradually start to converge.
The one weakness of this book lies in the vagueness surrounding some of the details. Sabina and Cordain’s past makes a lot of sense and I could also follow most of the present story, as well as tie it in to the previous book in the series, but there is a jump between past and present that readers may find hard to negotiate. When reading closely, I could discern who the bad guys were, but I found it hard to come up with a coherent understanding of the characters’ world and how everything worked. Even after scanning back through the book a second time, I still felt like too many details of the worldbuilding had been skimmed over. It does make the action move more quickly and it cuts down on page length, but I would rather have more pages and a more fully developed world.
Still, Sabina and Cordain are both intriguing characters. In reading their stories, one can tell that they obviously loved each other in the past and watching them realize this in the present is beautiful. There are some twists to the tale that make things a trifle odd, but I did really like their love story as well as the action plot surrounding it. The relationship develops a bit slowly, but the gradual ratcheting up of tension between the two worked for me.
Since this is a hot button issue for some readers, I will warn you that the plot does contain some sexual violence – some of which is uncomfortably vivid. Though some of it made me ache to read it, the author handles her plot well, and I did ultimately enjoy the story. Dragonbound tells a story of love and adventure in a very dark, gritty world and readers who like fantasy or who are looking for a very unique voice in romance will find it here.