This isn’t the first time I’ve read Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey, and I can’t say for certain if it will be the last. I don’t know what it is about this book that keeps drawing me back in, but I keep going back to it when I crave a high fantasy adventure…and coming away disappointed. So this time, I really looked at what had me going, “Eh…” about it, and what I actually liked about it.
The characters are a mixed batch of royalty, knights, and then commoners. I’ve managed to keep the royalty straight in each read, but every time the knights and the commoners bite me in the butt and I can’t keep people straight outside of their scene. I always have to have a moment of going, “Okay, who is this?” which isn’t what any writer wants. What’s worse is that there are several characters we don’t even meet, and I’m able to remember who they are and how they are important, but not the characters Rose actually deals with. They are cookie-cutters that never got filled out, but are acting in fairly important parts like actual cookies.
With the main characters, it’s a pretty evenly split. Sir Magnus and the king and queen, I knew and I liked. They were fleshed out, they had fairly clear motivations, everything was pretty hunky dory. But I am still confused about our witch character, as far as any of her motivations beyond being an evil witch, boo hiss. Our protagonist and her savior knight? Flat. Flat, flat, flat, flat. There is literally nothing about them I can dig my teeth into as far as real character traits are concerned. I think Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora have more personality, and those are my least favorite Disney princesses for the very reason that they are nothing beyond the pretty princess! And seriously, we get one little snippet of the hero, but otherwise, he just shows up at the end of this and they are in love, and just… Put down the Twilight and get into the real world, please.
Speaking of worlds, the world of Wilde Island…I like it. It has a King Arthur link with the story of the Pendragon queen of Wilde Island and Merlin’s prophecy about them. There’s a layer of serious authenticity to it, and I would know due to my work with the Arthurian Order of Avalon these last couple of years. I love how the dragons are, and yes, I’m okay that they talk. It’s her dragons, I’m not going to judge. (Wait till you meet my “dragons” in Eresith, you’ll understand.) There are a couple of loose ends, though. Tess’s connection with the witch seems sort of tossed in. I’m told there’s another book, but I shouldn’t need a second book to understand what’s going on in this book. And Opal, God, OPAL. I swear, there was a subplot that was supposed to explain why she’s different from the others, but it never made it in. Or I hope so, or else I will be ready to throw things.
Plot wise, it was…okay. I mean, about the time we hear of the second prophecy that Merlin made to the dragons, we’ve vaguely figured out where it is going to end. The witch trial took me a little by surprise, but it worked with what we knew of the world, and on a second read it made more sense to me. I think the biggest thing I had with her plot was the amount of TIME she took to tell it. The book is a fast read, but it’s hard to realize that it takes years for all of this to play out. I think if it had been considerably condensed, it would have been much stronger for it. And I’ve already said how there was very little character, but if there had been more of Rose’s motivation, I would have known her as a character better. If condensed, the relationship with her future king would also have made sense.
The subplot with Kat was just an unnecessary mess. I really wish it had been cut, and more depth added to the main plot, especially with Rose and her would-be rescuer. Or modified to fit into the main story better. As it is now, it’s this awkward…thing that sort of sits heavy in the middle of the plot. It also seemed like there was a serious lack of conflict going on with Rose/Briar and her time with the dragons. I understood they were supposed to have this love/hate relationship, but it really didn’t come across well, mostly because we were told a lot more than we were shown about her interactions with them. Okay, we get, Lord what-his-name is being mean to you. But what about the dragonlings? We just aren’t shown enough of them.
Upon more reflection of this book, I’ve kinda realized what it’s a knock-off of. Here me out. At least with the dragons, I’m being REALLY strongly reminded of the first book in the Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher, Dragon’s Milk. If you think about it, they have fairly similar plots if you compare the first half of Dragon’s Milk and the last half of Dragon’s Keep. They are enough alike that I have to wonder if maybe Carey read Fletcher’s and just tried to add her own twist to it, or if it’s just a coincidence. I don’t know. But I guess I keep coming back to Carey’s book because I love the Dragon Chronicles so much, and I keep wanting it to be just as good as them. Which isn’t really fair to anybody, including Carey and myself. So maybe I need to put Dragon’s Keep faraway until I forget I own it.