Have you ever read a book that you absolutely adored, but when asked to explain why you loved it, you can’t think of any reason? In fact, you can probably think of a couple reasons you should have hated the book instead. That happens to me every now and then, and I call these books guilty pleasures.
This makes reviewing hard. I absolutely adored Redheart. It is the first volume in a young adult fantasy series written by Jackie Gamber, titled The Leeland Dragon Series. Redheart was first published in 2008, but the series was never continued. Seventh Star Press, a lovely and relatively new small publisher, picked up the series and has just re-released Redheart, with the second volume, Sela, to follow near the end of the year.
Big humans with wings
Redheart is an amazing book that I read in one long session because I couldn’t put it away, and yet I can more easily think of reasons why you shouldn’t love it.
This starts from the very first page, when the dragons in the book are introduced. I make a point of disliking any dragons that resemble humans too closely. After all, dragons are supposed to be awful, powerful, scary beasts that breathe fire and eat humans for breakfast. They should absolutely not be like Gamber’s dragons: a race of big humans with wings, who feel human emotions and are prone to intrigue and conspiracy. Or worse, are romantically involved with humans.
If you look past these unlikely dragons, however, Redheart is quite the entertaining read. The story starts when Riza, a human girl with an adventurous spirit, leaves her parents to travel to the heart of Leland Province. When she is attacked by bandits on the road, a young dragon named Kallon Redheart saves her life. The ensuing friendship leads the two of them on a dangerous journey into the city of dragons.
Reasons to hate it …
Redheart has some obvious flaws, which can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s a novel aimed for a young adult audience. Though most characters are really interesting, some of them—especially the bad guys—are stereotyped and shallow. Plot devices seem farfetched at times, with completely unexpected and unlikely twists. In other situations, unexpected might be good, but when the entire story leads to a very simple solution and, without reason, Kallon takes the hard way around the problem, it becomes a bit annoying.
… and reasons to love it!
Then why did I love this book so much? I believe the main reasons are the story and the way it is told. Gamber has a very gentle and subtle writing style. Before you know what’s happening, this writing has lured you into loving the characters and their dilemmas. The romance between the human girl and dragon boy is an example of this. It is handled in that same subtle way. You will find none of “Oh Edward, I don’t care that you are a bloodsucking monster who wants to suck me dry every time we kiss, I just love you!” in this book. Instead, the characters handle their love realistically, developing a friendship and trying to ignore the love they feel.
Like an onion
While disguised as an entertaining YA story about dragons, the thing that struck me most about Gamber’s writing is how many deep themes she manages to convey in her gentle words. In a light way, Redheart explores themes like death, rape, and imprisonment. Skillfully woven into the story is a racist dictator who doesn’t shy back from killing half-breed dragons to further his own goals. This adds a rather deep layer to the otherwise shallow story.
Despite this extra layer, Redheart may still not be the most intelligent read. However, it is definitely an entertaining and enthralling one. Redheart’s world, story, and pacing turned this novel into a page-turner. After a while, even her dragons started to grow on this fastidious reader. If you enjoy dragons that aren’t bloodthirsty monsters, you might even fall hopelessly in love with Gamber’s story. At its core, Redheart offers an interesting fantasy world with magic that is explored with more depth as the story develops. Most intriguing, though, is the story of conspiracy in the court of the dragons, and the brewing war between humans and dragons.
Why should you read this book?
A tale of friendship, romance, courage, and destiny, Redheart surprises with a lot of epic elements hidden in a YA novel that reads like Shrek meets Eragon meets Twilight. This isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, yet I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, The Leeland Dragon Series might become my next big guilty pleasure after Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle ends late this year. Anyone who enjoys reading YA will most likely enjoy Redheart as well.
Stephan received a review copy courtesy of Seventh Star Press.