The Dragon Kings, Book One
Ten years ago, Audrey MacLaren chose to marry her human lover, making her an exile from the Dragon Kings, an ancient race of demons once worshiped as earthly gods. Audrey and her husband managed to conceive, and their son is the first natural-born Dragon King in a generation–which makes him irresistible to the sadistic scientist whose mafia-funded technology allows demon procreation. In the year since her husband was murdered, Audrey and her little boy have endured hideous experiments.
Shackled with a collar and bound for life, Leto Garnis is a Cage warrior. Only through combat can Dragon Kings earn the privilege of conceiving children. Leto uses his superhuman speed and reflexes to secure the right for his two sisters to start families. After torture reveals Audrey’s astonishing pyrokenesis, she is sent to fight in the Cages. If she survives a year, she will be reunited with her son. Leto is charged with her training. Initially, he has no sympathy for her plight. But if natural conception is possible, what has he been fighting for? As enemies, sparring partners, lovers, and eventual allies, Leto and Audrey learn that in a violent underground world, love is the only prize worth winning.
ERMAGERD, you guys! I really didn’t think I’d like this book. It’s pretty and the blurb looked amazing, but I’m not so much a dragon-king kind of person. I’m telling you this because I learned my lesson rather quickly: you don’t HAVE to be a dragon-king kind of person to really, REALLY love this book.
My lukewarm expectations were blown to bits on the first page. The writing style is sharp, crisp, and gritty. Every word exists in painfully vivid detail. Ms. Piper’s writing – from page one – serves to place the reader in the dead-center of every scene. You can’t toe into this book – you’re in the deep end, fully clothed, struggling to keep your head up, and gasping for every breath. It’s THAT good.
Those of you who, like me, aren’t exactly jonesing for dragons, take heart. These characters are as real as you and me. They have failings. They suffer. They are wounded, yet they push on. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the heroine, whose son is held captive by a “sadistic cartel scientist” and used as leverage to keep her in line. The hero is sent to torture her for to gain her powers and cooperation, but in tiny, irrevocable bits she chinks his armor. The growth of their relationship is beautifully painstaking. Neither one can afford to give an inch, yet passion burns. There are no small concessions between them. Every step – every misstep – is calculated. There is a price, and in this underworld of torture and mistaken pride, the price is unfailingly high, the risk too great.
Don’t let the setting fool you. This is a story of redemption. Of peril. Of sacrifice. Of love. It’s not the kind of book in which you’d want to wallow. It’s too dark – so much so that the light at the end is blinding, but emerging from this tale is like that. You have to squint a little, try to figure out where you are. Because you didn’t just read this book – you were possessed the grime and the raw emotion.
You were taken, and it was one heck of a ride.
Rating: 4 Stars – The writing was vivid, gritty, and AMAZING, but after a flawless buildup, the ending felt a little rushed.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.