It's been a long time since I wrote a review. That's because I have a lot of trouble reading and writing at the same time. I'm always afraid the two will bleed together -- whether that's true or not. I think that might be my worst nightmare? Anyway...
Dragonswood has been on my radar for a while, and when I sat down and started reading it I could just tell I was in for something special. I am glad to say that I was not wrong or disappointed. I really love this book. Now, let me tell you why.
The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
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.
Accusations of witchcraft, trials of loyalty and friendship and an area sanctioned to protect the rights of fairies and dragons. From word go Dragonswood grabbed my attention and, despite the conditions under which I read it, this book refused to let go.
I really enjoyed how well developed the world was in this story. It takes place on an island near England and I think that Janet did a great job blending real world history with her magical creatures. I bought into Dragonswood hook, line and sinker.
Any book that has something to do with dragons tends to get my attention, but the way that part of this book was handled is probably one of my favorite things about it. The fact that there is a connection between dragons and the Island's royal family was also interesting and the results of this made for some interesting tension and revelations as the story went on.
Another thing that I felt was cool is how the story was broken into parts, and how each of these managed to both connect tightly together to form a single, wonderful whole and yet, at the same time, have a good reason for being labeled as its own thing.
I really liked Tess and she felt like a very real heroine. I was immediately able to connect with her -- both to the things about her that were good and the things that could be considered her flaws. She felt very real. I admired her courage and cleverness. I also appreciated the fact that she did not always have these things and that her lack at certain points of the story allowed me to watch her grow.
Tess' friends, Meg and Poppy, were equally interesting. I liked the bond between the three girls; both when it was in tact and watching how it mended when things happened that threatened to break it. Sometimes the 'friends' of a heroine can seem really shallow but that was not the case here. Each of these girls had their moments and had their own 'things' that were interesting. I found myself caring about all of them which is something I can't always say about the 'friends' in a YA novel.
And of course my thoughts on the characters would not be complete if I did not absolute gush, bounce and squee over Garth. As with the girls his character was complex and definitely had a good number of layers going on, keeping me on my toes. Yet despite their issues and differences, I felt that he and Tess were fabulous together.
This has an interesting build to it in Dragonswood. Tess starts the book completely opposed to the idea of being interested in anyone. I would guess this is in large part due to the abuse she has suffered and the general behavior of the men that surround her.
With this set up, it would have been easily for the connection between Tess and Garth to fail miseribly, but fortunately this is not what happened. Janet shows their relationship grow not by having her go on and on about how handsome he is, or by telling us how much chemistry they have. Instead, we see them slowly grow to trust each other, see that trust tested in varying ways, see them together and apart and (for me, at least) actually fall for Garth along with Tess. Both through his presence and through his absense at various points in the story.
The romance does not drown the story, nor does Tess do something silly like ceasing to behave as an individual character as she grows to care about Garth. In fact, I think one aspect that I found incredibly clever was how Janet took what was essentially Tess' wishlist of what she would want in a man and, as the story progressed, had Tess come to realize that Garth -- through his actions and behavior -- possessed the qualities she prized.
In a literary landscape of jealous stalker guys, it amuses me to no end that one of the most wonderful heroes I've had the pleasure to read about is from a book that takes place in (if memory serves -- been about a week since I finished) 12th century Europe.
I could go on and on about these two, but really it's better if you just go and read about them yourself. :)
Filled with a perfect blend of adventure, intrigue, magical beings and romance, Dragonswood is a delightful tale that has earned its place on my keeper shelf. If you love fantasy, romance and memorable characters this is a book that you simply must read. Highly recommended!