Highland Dragon Warrior
Paranormal plus historical. Yeah, I wasn’t sure what to think either, but I couldn’t resist the lure. Isabel Cooper creates a historical world based in fantasy with the elements of a more contemporary paranormal and kept me entertained for over 300 pages with it.
It’s the fourteenth century, and Sophia Metzger seeks a dragon. Well, dragon scales really, as she is an alchemist. She and Alice, her friend and chaperone, travel to Scotland in search of a legend – a family who can turn into dragons. What she finds is Cathal MacAlasdair, a man who, yes, can turn into a dragon, but also needs something from Sophia.
The Scots have been fighting the English, but in this world, the English have sorcerers on their side. One of them cursed Cathal’s friend Fergus, and he is literally fading away before their eyes, his physical body becoming more and more translucent as time goes on, his soul gone to somewhere unknown. Sophia is Cathal’s only hope, the only option that he has come across, and it’s worth it to him to give some of his scales in return for her help.
And so Sophia becomes entangled with the cursed, with the sorcerer, and with Cathal. It’s her promise that keeps her there, but Cathal that keeps her dedicated to her task. She isn’t convinced she will be able to save his friend, but she will try anything and everything she can.
If I have a complaint about this story, it’s that it moves a little slowly, much like Sophia’s alchemical experiments. That said, it doesn’t plod, it just feels… slow-moving but purposeful. The relationship between Sophia and Cathal is a slow burn, but has a delightful tension as it builds. Sophia’s experiments obviously take weeks to accomplish, even with the danger to Cathal’s friend looming over their heads.
However, readers will find much to praise here. I absolutely loved Sophia; she’s a strong woman, well aware of her abilities, and of their limits. She knows that she has placed herself in danger, both with the sorcerer and by virtue of the simple fact that she is Jewish. Her faith doesn’t play a huge role in the story overall, but it does inform the character, and you can see the background for many of her choices.
I also loved Cathal – he is incredibly protective of Sophia, but it never feels stifling. He wants to help her, to keep her safe, but knows that Sophia is smart and capable, and doesn’t try to stop her from doing what she thinks is right. This is the kind of alpha male I adore.
I did not expect to love the blend of historical and fantasy as much as I did, but it really worked so well! For those unfamiliar with the concept of alchemy, it is a sort of science/magic mix, making potions using ingredients with different influences of the stars and moon, scheduling it all based on the same cycles. It’s a kind of pre-chemistry, but also a sort of philosophy. Using a precursor to the modern laboratory, practitioners were generally educated, and calculated everything from the solar/lunar cycles to their own personal influences to the influences of their ingredients when creating their mixtures. Sophia uses everything at her disposal to create something to bring Fergus back and she has to really try. It’s not just a matter of ‘mix this, fix the problem, mix again, done.’ She runs the risk of explosions, injuring herself, and attacks from the sorcerer to make this work. It was interesting to read, and I have the utmost respect for Sophia and her dedication.
More about the alchemy than about Cathal turning into a dragon, the novel feels like an historical fantasy, or alternate history romance, rather than a paranormal. For those who like historicals and want a touch of magic, this would be a good book to try. For those who like paranormals, but want to try a historical, I’d say the same. Overall, Highland Dragon Warrior is a solid romance with fantastic characters and an interesting storyline. The sequel is due out soon as well, and looks to star a kick-ass female dragon, so I’m in. Who’s with me?