Book Review: Dragon's Keep

Dragon’s Keep
by Janet Lee Carey

When King Arthur’s younger sister Evaine was exiled to Wilde Island, Merlin made a prophecy to her:

The signs all point to the twenty-first queen of Wilde Island…. Three things the stars say of this queen. She shall redeem the name Pendragon. End war with the wave of her hand. And restore the glory of Wilde Island.…And yet I see darkly in the stars…a beast”

Many years later, Evaine’s descendent Rosalind grows up knowing that she is to be the twenty-first queen of Wilde Island and destined to fulfill the prophecy. But there’s one problem: Rosalind was born with a birth defect. The ring finger on her left hand is a dragon’s claw instead of a finger, a sure mark of the devil. Rosalind has had to spend her entire life gloved, for fear that someone will see the mark.

Rosalind’s mother, Queen Gweneth, is determined that she will find a way to heal her of her mark. She believes that once healed, Rosalind will marry the English Prince Henry, currently in exile in France, and that the two of them will become king and queen of England. To this end, Queen Gweneth subjects Rosalind to the ministrations of healer after healer. None of the healers are allowed to know what the problem is, of course, so they have to work without knowing what they are trying to cure. Some of the cures are unpleasant, and none of them works.

A dragon’s mark is especially bad, because Wilde Island is beset by a dragon, who attacks and kills the inhabitants. Dragons are not looked on with favor on Wilde Island. When the dragon abducts Rosalind, she learns a lot more about dragons than she ever wanted to know, and her destiny turns out to be very different than she expected.

Dragon’s Keep is a beautiful book, but a dark one. Rosalind’s life is such a horror, and that the pain of it is caused by the mother who thinks she is doing the best for her daughter is unspeakable. When Rosalind is abducted by the dragon, her life is still a horror, but in a very different way. It raises the question of just who is the beast in Merlin’s prophecy: the dragon or the mother? Queen Gweneth reminds me of some parents who push their children too much in areas such as sports or acting, thinking that they are helping their child and not realizing that they’re carrying it too far. (As a stage parent myself, I can see how easy it is to get carried away and think that you are doing what’s best for your child).

Dragon’s Keep also shows how different sides in a war can perceive the same things very differently. Dragon Slippers, which I reviewed yesterday, deals with the same theme. It was interesting reading these two books so close together. They are, in many ways, very different books: where Dragon Slippers is humorous and lighthearted, although with some darker moments, Dragon’s Keep is dark and intense.

The dragons in the two books are very different as well; the dragons in Dragon Slippers are so very human whereas the dragons in Dragon’s Keep are clearly a different species with an alien (to us) way of thinking. And yet both books deal with the same theme of reconciling the “us vs. them” mentality in a war. In Dragon Slippers, the author takes the approach of making the dragons so likable that the reader can easily bridge the gap between “us” and “them.” The dragons in Dragon’s Keep, however, seem harsh to us, and yet as time goes on, we begin, as does Rosalind, to understand how they think, and we find ourselves drawn to them. And so the gap is bridged, and bridged in a way that has a stronger psychological impact.

I hope that my description hasn’t led you to believe that these weighty themes drag down the story, because they don’t. I doubt I would have noticed all the above quite so strongly if I hadn’t read both books practically back-to-back during my Cybils reading. Dragon’s Keep is a strong story, exciting, and enjoyable to read. The plot twists and revelations hold your interest and pull the story along. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in dragons, or who just likes interesting, thought-provoking fantasies.