Dragonshadow is the sequel to last year’s popular Pride and Prejudice inspired fantasy romance novel, Heartstone. Picking up shortly after the end of Heartstone, Dragonshadow offers a deeper look at the magical kingdom of Arle and their dangerous enemies: the vicious Tekari and the mysterious Els. I think this book would be confusing without the world and relationship building provided in the first novel and so recommend readers start there.
Aliza and Alistair have enjoyed only a few precious weeks of honeymoon when the messenger comes. Things are dire at Castle Selwyn and they need Alistair and his dragon companion Akara to come help deal with some dead Idar (magical creatures who are indifferent allies to humans) and a missing girl. Since it would take more than an ordinary human to kill Idar, it is important that a member of the dragon corps take on the issue. Aliza understands perfectly that this is the nature of Alistair’s job; he is expected to spend his time protecting the realm from magical enemies. She is, however, determined not to let him travel alone. He is equally determined that she remain behind. Aliza herself is not a fighter; Alistair’s battle with the Greater Lindworm, which took place in the last book, has left him weaker as a warrior and those two factors combined will make it dangerous for them to travel together. Aliza won’t be able to defend herself, and protecting her will distract Alistair from his primary mission. Also, the journey to Selwyn will involve crossing the Old Wilds, a place where even he and Akara will be outmatched by dangerous, magical creatures, and it’s not the kind of trip upon which one takes their lady wife. Alistair is firm in his refusal to allow her to accompany him.
Two unexpected allies aid Aliza in getting her way, but once travel has begun, she finds herself questioning her own wisdom. She feels nauseous while flying on Akara’s back, isn’t used to living quite this rough, and her first experience in a fight goes very badly. Then she meets the ghastradi, a human possessed by a kind of powerful, magical spirit. The evil ghoul has foul plans for her and it is only the intervention of an unanticipated friend that saves her. The encounter leaves her determined to do all she can to rid the people of Arle of the horrors that plague them and most especially, to watch Alistair’s back in the war the ghastradi claimed was coming.
This book is very much about digging deep. For Aliza and Alistair – who remain firmly in love – this means doing the hard work of building their relationship. As described above, the big question is whether Aliza can accompany Alistair on trips and be an asset, which this book proves is no easy task. While Aliza is clever and makes herself useful throughout the journey, both as a healer and investigator, the author makes it clear that her lack of fighting skills is a definite liability. Alistair and Aliza have trouble communicating because they view the issue through two different lenses: Alistair sees every setback as proof Aliza belongs safe at home while Aliza sees her contributions as proof she can be a help to her husband. Her big concern is that they will have no relationship if they spend the bulk of their marriage separated while he fights for the realm; his big concern is that he will have no wife if she is killed in battle. This conflict remains throughout the tale and is not really resolved at the end.
The author also digs deeper into her fantasy world. We meet some new magical creatures, learn a bit more about those we’ve met before and make some new discoveries about the issues that have recently been besetting the land of Arle. The Els remain mysterious but we receive more hints and innuendos about the role they have in all of this. An old enemy also surfaces, with implications that he might be more deeply tied to the dark magic moving through the land than was previously believed. The author does a good job of giving us closure to the primary action focus of the tale – the issues at Selwyn Castle – while building the ongoing conflict for the books to come. I was especially intrigued by the question of the heart stones in all this. We learn a scant few new things about them and let’s just say, what was there definitely captured my interest.
The writing and world building here are very much the stuff of classical fantasy novels. While there is enough that is new to captivate and delight fans of the genre, there is also enough that is typical to give them that pleasant feel of familiarity. While the inspiration is the Regency novel Pride and Prejudice, this book does not include things like the Season, the ton, balls, or anything of the Austen or Heyer-inspired tropes romance readers might expect, and in fact, the story has a more medieval feel than a Regency one. The Austen aspect tends to be more in the vein of the characters and how they interact.
My one quibble with the book is that Akara the dragon plays such a peripheral role in the story. I would have preferred to have learned more about her than I did and to spend more time with her in a non-fighting capacity.
Dragonshadow is a good sequel novel, bridging the gap between the past and what is to come very comfortably. I would reiterate that it is important to read book one before tackling this one, but I think fans of that novel will find themselves very satisfied with this latest offering from Ms. White.