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I was attracted by the cover, read the first couple of pages and scooped this offering off the shelves.
In the country of Caithen, Prince Corin is tasked with freeing the dragons from their bondage to the Emperor. To help him in his quest, the terrifying beasts have allowed Corin a little of their power. But the history of the dragons' slavery is shrouded in mystery and no one can assist in his quest to free them... until the arrival of Tam at court -- a sensible doctor's daughter, who discovers a remarkable talent.
It's an intriguing premise -- yes, I know that you've read the blurb above and thought, 'what's different?'. What's different isn't the fantasy element -- it's the romantic element. Think Jane Austin translocated into a fantasy setting and you've got the vibe of this book. While the fantasy storyline is the narrative that drives the novel forward, the courtship between these two passionate, intelligent protagonists provides the emotional tone. Romance can work brilliantly in speculative fiction, but all too often a trite, hackneyed boy-meets-girl setup frankly spoils what could be a quirky engaging story. Leonard manages to layer the romance into the story by making me really care about both protagonists before they got together.
As for the dragon component -- these days they have to have something special. After the dragonriders of Pern and Smaug et al what does Leonard bring to the lair to make her dragons stand out? She writes them intelligently by keeping them very threatening, and although Corin is eventually able to ride one and even communicate with it, there is never a sense of being able to treat a dragon like a huge dog with scales.
Leonard manages to evoke the same threat and mystery about her magic with strong use of imagery and the sense both of her main characters, while able at times to harness aspects of it, are still very much floundering. Again, it underlines the sense of wonder and unease that all too often is missing in swords and sorcery fantasy, which I think helps to make this an enjoyable, engrossing read.
Any niggles? Well, there was a big build-up to the major climax with the dragons and despite there being plenty of tension and the stakes being very high, the actual denouement was slightly lacking in the full-on action I think this genre demands. However, this wasn't a dealbreaker for me, as Leonard manages to tie up the ending satisfactorily.I picked it up, wanting something a little less bleak after having read a string of grimdark fantasies and was prepared for it to be a frothy, fun read. Moth and Spark is certainly fun, but it also packs more of a punch than I'd expected and I shall be looking out for more books from this accomplished author.
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