Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard
Viking Adult, February 20th, 2014 (Fantasy / Romance)*
My rating: Liked the place, but the food was bad.
Moth and Spark is about a young commoner and a young prince who find themselves at the center of intrigue, betrayal, and war in a land that owes fealty to an empire. A land that used to have dragons, which for centuries now have been held captive by the emperor, who uses them (and their dragonriders) as scouts and battleships in his armies. The dragons have decided the time is right to rebel, to be free. In this time, a foreign invasion by a cruel, technologically advanced society from the east is imminent, and the emperor’s court is torn by political infighting. For this purpose, they require the willing service of Prince Corin, who has talents of which he is unaware. Very shortly, he becomes romantically entangled with a young commoner, name of Tam, who also has hidden talents. Together, they forge a way through court intrigue, danger, betrayal, and war – on behalf of the dragons.
This story began with slow and steady worldbuilding that fit well into the plot. I was completely drawn in by the exciting court intrigue, military strategy, and the mystery about dragons. I even liked the protagonists – smart, honest, witty. Somewhere in the first half, the book took a left turn and headed way out into the country. Prepared for a different kind of story, I didn’t enjoy this one as much. At first, the focus on the plot and the mystery had me thinking this would be more of a fantasy than a romance. The plot, instead of focusing on the Problem of the Dragons, focused on the Budding Romance. Which is sweet, but not as exciting as dragons, and war, and spies.
The sweet romance is spoiled by insta-love. Tam is beautiful, intelligent, unusually well-educated for a young woman, intellectual, honest, and uninterested in the marriage mart at court. Of course, she’s a perfect draw for a fawned-upon prince! Corin is honest, straightforward, and confident – unlike the courtiers. Just about as soon as Prince Corin and Tam meet, they’re in love. Given the number of pages it took for them to even meet, I was dismayed to realize that this wouldn’t be the slow and steady courtship I was hoping for. I found out later they fell in love in five days. FIVE DAYS! I’m reminded here of that scene in Frozen (my favorite Disney movie, EVER, rent it right now if you haven’t seen it), when Kristoff repeatedly exclaims in horrified fascination (or is that fascinated horror?) that Anna fell in love with a man immediately she set eyes on him.
Tam walks (falls off?) atop a fence separating two pastures: the Pasture of Indepenedence and Agency, and the Field of Sidekick/Prop to the Hero. I know which field I want her to land in, but I’m not convinced that she does. She has a fantastic set of scenes wherein she runs and hides from the enemy with a secretive member of the King’s court (without Corin). She rides astride, in trousers, sleeping on the ground and camping out, climbing walls and crouching behind bushes to hide from danger. And she does it all without complaining.
In contrast, the author made a huge effort to introduce Tam as an apprentice doctor – or she would be, except she’s a female. Instead of making this an essential factor in Tam’s character and in the events that follow, the only purpose her medical education serves is to help her identify the threat in the lead-up to the war (she has another Secret Talent which becomes the most important Tam-attribute). With all her knowledge and brainpower and independence, why does she fall instantly in love with Corin and then immediately change her life to accommodate his? She admires Corin’s willingness to do meaningful work, but she gives up her chance to do the same (unless Princesses do meaningful work. Do they?). There was one scene that particularly disturbed me. Corin, the narrator, thinks about how much he respects and admires Tam’s smarts – and then he proceeds to distract her by seducing her. In the middle of her thought!
At times, the action was fast and fierce, but mainly, as a reader, I waited with the characters. Corin, waiting for the Dragons to tell him it’s time. Tam, waiting for Corin to call her back to him. The dragons, waiting for the right moment for the war. Waiting, waiting, waiting. The war starts early on in the novel, but the pacing doesn’t pick up really, until the climax, after which the book concluded with a long, dragged out Happily Ever After ending.
I thought I would like this one more. I really, really wanted to. And it is a fun, light, romance about a couple who have to deal with dragons. But so much of it just didn’t work for me.
*eARC via NetGalley
Itching for a tale about dragonriders? Try Anne McCaffrey‘s Pern series. On a planet with an irregularly-recurring natural phenomenon where giant worm-like things fall from the sky and destroy all life, humans have fire-breathing dragons to burn it all up before it can. Start with Dragonflight (her first novel), a story about a small, fierce, stubborn, independent young slave girl who’s destiny is much bigger than she. Alternatively, start with Dragonsdawn, first in chronological order, and which describes the origins of Pern and the dragons.
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, is one of the most magical dragon fantasies I’ve read in a really long time. Young Seraphina is different from everyone else at the royal court in Goredd, where she tutors the princess in music – and she guards her secret well. Until the day the Dragon Ambassador arrives to renew the treaty between humans and dragons, and one of the royal family dies mysteriously – and in a way that implicates the dragons. Thrust into the mystery and intrigue, Seraphina strives to protect her secrets and to guard her heart.
Mercedes Lackey, a very prolific writer, wrote one of my favorite fantasy series when I was younger. Her world features talking horses, gryphons, and intelligent birds instead of dragons, but if you’re looking for magical creatures working with humans, a fight between good and evil, and heavy doses of magic and adventure, you’ll like her Valdemar books. My favorite is the Mage Winds trilogy, but the first is the Arrows of the Queen trilogy.
Like the combination of dragons and political intrigue? Try the much more intricate Dragon Prince series, by Melanie Rawn. An ethical, honest, but clever prince, whose desert land shelters dragons (and whose people kill them), marries a SunRunner, a magician (and a commoner). Together, they defend the dragons and their principality against intrigues and war. (I’m starting to really want to read these again).
Lastly, but not least, of course: If you’re looking for a fun, light adventure tale with court intrigues and swashbuckling duels and romance and a cross-country chase, read Sherwood Smith‘s Crown Duel. A novel in two novels, they follow the rebellious Countess Meliara as she stubbornly fights to protect her people from a corrupt king. She leads her people into war, and ends up at court, where must learn very quickly about hidden meanings and political secrets. Throughout, she battles her opponent, the handsome and clever Vidanric, who always seems to be one step ahead of Mel. Just so you know, I love this book. Love it.