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Dragon Heart: A Fantasy Novel    by Cecelia Holland order for
Dragon Heart
by Cecelia Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I believe that I have read everything Cecelia Holland has ever written, from early historicals like Firedrake and Rakossy to more recent stories that also incorporate fantasy elements, like The Soul Thief series that finished in Kings of the North. Now she brings us Dragon Heart, billed as 'A Fantasy Novel'. As always, she delivers spare yet striking prose and very credible characters, each seeking their own path, for good or evil ends.

Castle Ocean stands where the Cape of the Winds juts into the sea, and has long been ruled by the red-headed clan who still hold the throne. But now its king and most of his army are dead, conquered in battle against Imperial forces. The Emperor sent his brother to marry Queen Marioza, but she poisoned him. Now he has sent a second brother, Archduke Erdhart, who takes precautions and brings his own two sons with him, Oto and Broga.

As the novel opens, young prince Jeon has been sent to retrieve his strange, wild, mute sister Tirza from the abbey (where she was exiled by her mother) for the wedding. They return on an Imperial galley, which is attacked by the dragon of the tale (also a wild and willful creature, 'red as new blood, big as the ship.')

The ship is destroyed, but both Jeon and Tirza survive, he clinging to a piece of deck, and she reaching shore, the dragon's territory. There, like Scheherazade, she weaves tales to keep the beast from eating her. The dragon becomes accustomed to this new diet and misses it when the Princess escapes his lair. And eventually Jeon tracks her down and brings her home - in time for a wedding.

That wedding does not go as the invaders expect and in its aftermath, the queen's eldest son, Prince Luka, leads the local folk in rebellion against the Emperor's soldiers. They do surprisingly well - until treachery strikes hard. Each of the royal children (princes Luka and Jeon, princesses Mervaly, Casea and Tirza) does what they think best, following different paths, meeting their fates. And Tirza dreams of her dragon, but can tell no one.

Dragon Heart is a wonderful story in which, as in all her novels, Cecelia Holland leaves plenty of room for the reader's own imagination to fill in the gaps. Don't miss this one!

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