There’s something to be said for an author who isn’t afraid to take memorable, emotionally compelling characters and really put them through the wringer. It takes strength for an author to attach their readers to a character and then put that character through turmoil. Furthermore, it’s quite a gamble. While many authors will put their characters through physical battles, there’s almost never really any doubt how it will all end. However, when the plot is emotionally charged and the battleground is on a more personal level, some readers are lost along with a lot of the certainty many are used to. Thus, I should congratulate Melanie Rawn for making that gamble with her characters. It was a bold move, and in many ways it paid off.
That being said, Dragon Prince is a more emotional book than anything else. While it does have some action scenes, the main protagonists rely on brains rather than brawn and the physical action takes a back seat to the character and relationship development. This is both a positive and a negative. The reader will almost certainly become attached to the cast of characters and when something happens to one of them, the reader will feel it keenly. On another level, though, it throws a speed bump in the overall world-building.
Rawn is striving to build a sprawling world full of complex politics and deep-rooted history. Her intense focus on the emotional buildup of the characters and plot affects this world-building; the setting is somewhat patchy with certain parts much more vividly realized than others. In fact, there are vast swaths of Rawn’s world that are mentioned but never fully understood, where only a vague mental picture can be scrawled up about the scene and culture.
Romance takes center stage very early on in Dragon Prince. While true love is found, Rawn keeps it classy; and if it does smack of cliché, it is easy to forgive. Though much of the first part of the book deals with an intricate political dance, it’s always obvious where it will end up, which makes the first half of the book rather predictable. Despite its predictability, though, Rawn uses the first portion of Dragon Prince to build up deeper themes regarding power and authority that will ring through the whole novel.
The characters are interesting and well done, if a bit cookie-cutter. The protagonists are a little too predictable. The villain is a little too villainous. The women fall into every girl-needs-to-produce-sons-to-survive cliché imaginable and yes, this is slightly frustrating. If Rawn had, perhaps, stepped out of these comfort zones with her characterization, Dragon Prince could have cut one of the many chains which bind it firmly to the three-star zone.
Six years pass between the first half of the book and the second. This is, perhaps, my greatest complaint about Dragon Prince. While the break was necessary for the overall plot, it gave Dragon Prince a somewhat contrived air. Furthermore, the tight plot and interesting characterization falter in the second half. The characters seem far more lackluster and easier to feel neutral about. This really is a pity, as Rawn obviously worked hard to build up what she had gained in the first half only to let it come tumbling down in the second. While there are some redeeming aspects in the second half, and a bit more maturity, by and large it lacks what the first half gained, making Dragon Prince, on the whole, seem rather unbalanced.
While the story is interesting, emotionally charged and compelling, the book never quite reaches the heights I’m sure Rawn was trying to reach. The world building is patchy, the book is full of clichés, and parts of the plot are grossly predictable. However, Rawn’s smooth narrative flow and descriptive style of writing will work well to suck in readers interested in character-driven, intensely emotional plots. Despite the flaws I have listed, she managed to keep Dragon Prince interesting and if it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, it’s also not a book I regret reading.
FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.