[Review] Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
Published: 5 January, 2012
Publisher: Dial, an imprint of Penguin Group
Summary: “Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt, hoping to rid the island of half-fey maidens.
Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn’t expect to be accused of witchcraft, forced to flee with her two best friends, or offered shelter by the handsome and enigmatic Garth Huntsman, a warden for Dragonswood. But Garth is the younger prince in disguise and Tess soon learns that her true father was fey, making them the center of an exciting, romantic adventure, and an ancient prophecy that will bring about peace between all three races – dragon, human, and fairy.”
There are some things that draw you into a book when you start reading it. Sometimes it’s the plot, other times it’s the main character, and occasionally it’s the writing style. For Janet Lee Carey’s Dragonswood, it was the heroine, Tess daughter of the Blacksmith who kept me reading beyond the first few pages. It’s rare to find a female character whose inner strength can pull her through the story without the need for a prince charming to come to her rescue. Rarer still to find a female character who suffers abuse at the hands of her father but can still navigate her way through troubled moments in her journey. Tess has to suffer many things: physical and verbal abuse, being accused of witchcraft, is on the run from the law, has to protect herself and her friends in dragonswood and struggles with her place in the world.
Tess isn’t the only interesting and powerful character to read. Her friends Poppy and Meg were great sidekicks, and I found myself wondering how on earth I would’ve been able to cope if my father had married me off at 14 and had a child by 15 like Meg. Even in this fantasy world where fairies (fey) and dragons exist I was able to put my imagination at work envisioning what life would have been like simply as a human in the medieval era of King Arthur. When we meet Garth we finally see a male role model who isn’t loathsome and some hope for these girls’ lives are restored, but along the way I found myself being confused about where exactly this book was going.
I was put off in the beginning by just how rushed the plot seemed to be. One moment Tess was trying to find food with her friends and the next she was being accused of being a witch, she was in dragonswood, she falls in love, she discovers who she is, then she has to save the man she loves, and all the while save the kingdom from being taken over by a treacherous power-hungry Uncle. I feel like Carey’s editor made her cut out a lot of exposition and while the story and the characters were still good, the pacing suffered. It was jumpy and confusing in parts and almost made me put the book down. Why didn’t we get a better sense of how ruthlessly terrible this Uncle was? The bad guy character was all placed on Adele who turned out to be the sad victim who arguably gets a better happily ever after ending than anybody else in the book. I don’t want to be too spoilery but if you have read the book I wonder how many of you were able to guess the true identity of a certain someone way early on in the book?
All in all though, Carey’s Dragonswood was definitely a worthy read. I predict that there will be a sequel though she ties up Tess’ plot pretty neatly. Perhaps one of the characters we are introduced to near the end will pick up the position of book hero. He certainly has something interesting going for him in his future!