Heart of the Dragon’s Realm by Karalynn Lee
When Princess Kimri’s brother sells her to the ruler of the mountain kingdom of Helsmont in exchange for peace and a hundred swords, Kimri knows she has to go through with the bargain. Her own war-wracked kingdom can’t afford to be enemies with the enigmatic King Tathan.
But Helsmont is nothing like what she expected and instead of dragging her down the aisle, King Tathan promises her a year before she has to decide whether to marry him at all. Before long, Kimri begins to wonder whether there just might be a future for her in Helsmont – and finds herself having to make a heartbreaking choice between her past and her future.
I know, I know. That last bit is terribly dramatic. But there really is no way to tell you more without giving the plot away! Trust me, there are some fun twists involved.
Overall, Heart of the Dragon’s Realm is a feelgood romantic, not weighted down with unnecessary angst and melodramatic misunderstandings. It will appeal to readers who are looking for a spin on a romance story set in a medieval world of small warring countries and sworddancers. I would recommend it to fantasy lovers only with some reservations; the “fantasy” part of the genre is a circumstantial platform for Kimri’s story, and only really rears its head in the last couple dozen pages.
Arranged marriage and marriage-of-convenience stories are notoriously hard to write. There are so many points where the book can get derailed into creepy overgrown thickets of dysfunctional relationships. Heart of the Dragon’s Realm dodges that bullet. It’s a sweet romance story.
Short novels are the hardest to pull off, and this 142 page book felt short. I was disappointed that Kimri did not get a chance to prove that she was a strong, independent firecracker of a woman. She’s a survivor who refuses to bend, yes. But where is the princess who pretended to be a boy to sneak away and join a raiding party? Where is the headstrong woman who ignores social convention as a matter of course? Even when she lands in trouble (in a trauma-driven decision, more knee-jerk than intelligent), she subscribes to a ‘discretion is a better part of valor’ approach as she’s led around, man-handled, and generally spends her time hoping that someone will rescue her. Show me some spine, girl. You’re trapped in a tower. Now do something!
Even excepting that, the part of me that signed up for every Sociology and Psychology elective it could would have at least liked a little more on what exactly made Kimri a spunky, rebellious female character in a repressive, traditional society. That, and it’s officially time to retire the clumsy-heroine-who-has-to-be-saved-from-falling-on-her-face trope (will I ever be able to read about a heroine stumbling without flinching? I don’t know).
Heart of the Dragon’s Realm is a comfortable (comfort) read, with heart-warming romance and realistic, well-paced relationship. The novel sets up a Beauty and the Beast premise, but takes the story in its own way almost immediately to good results. The connection between Kimri and Tathan makes sense and doesn’t skimp – in fact, the novel spans about a year of storytime.
And so I don’t finish my review with the incorrect impression that it’s all about Kimri and Tathan sitting and chatting with each other over tea, there’s definitely something to appeal to most readers – ambushes in the middle of the night and imprisonment, family betrayal and reconciliation, romance and the consequences of choices.
Complimentary copy courtesy of Carina Press.