This book really shouldn’t work as well as it does.
I was expecting something more like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies — a humorous retelling of the tale of Elizabeth and Darcy but this time with dragons instead of zombies. And yes, this book has dragons, but it leaves P&P&Z in the dust. Where that book was trying so hard to be a clever mashup of genres, this one is just a great story that happens to be an homage to a favorite classic.**
Aliza Bentaine lives with her sisters and her parents in a small town that is being overrun by violent Gryphons and they need help. After the brutal death of Aliza’s youngest sister, the Lord of the Manor calls in the King’s Riders, who come swooping in on their wyverns and dragons to slay the beasts and bring order to the little village.
Included in the group of brave warriors is the kind and gallant Cedric Brynsley, who immediately falls for Aliza’s beautiful older sister, Anjey, and the dour and rude Alaistair Daired, who doesn’t like to dance and butts heads with Aliza from the moment they meet.
We also get to meet the dragons and other mystical creatures that fight alongside the Riders, and what was interesting to me about them was that they spoke the same languages as the main characters and had their own opinions about battles and relationships and love. I didn’t expect some of the best advice in the story to come from a dragon.
I really enjoyed the fantasy elements at play here — this was a lot like Regency England, but very different, in that Aliza had friends who were hobgoblins and gnomes, and that the countryside was being devoured by a gigantic worm. I also liked that there was an existing fantasy world here, and that White doesn’t really bother to explain it. It just is.
I liked that some of the personality traits of characters from the original story were slightly tweaked here to make them better suited to the fantasy world they lived in. Daired’s aunt (the Lady Catherine character) was a tough warrior, who approved of Aliza’s bravery from the moment they met…and it was her dragon that tries to break apart the romance. I liked that Aliza’s sister Mari, who was still a quiet bookworm, actually played a part in defeating the giant worm. And I liked that Aliza’s other sister, Leyda, learns from her mistakes here, and hopefully becomes a better person because of them.
Yes, there is a Mr. Wickham here, and he’s even worse than you might imagine.
I really didn’t expect to get as wrapped up in this book as I did. But once the Riders came to town and they Bentaines went to the first ball, I couldn’t put it down. Even though I knew what would happen to all (or most) of the main characters, I was still nervous for them and rooting for them to GET TOGETHER ALREADY.
This is White’s first novel, and I hope there will be more. And I wouldn’t mind if a few of them were fantasy retellings of other classic novels.
**As Lane mentioned in an earlier review, my only gripe with this retelling is the fact that Elle Katharine White never mentions Jane Austen or Pride & Prejudice in her Acknowledgments. Come on. The blurb on the back mentions P&P, but the author simply chooses to ignore the inspiration for her debut novel? Harumph.