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Dragonlands, Books 1 - 3: Hidden, Hunted, and Retribution, by Megg Jensen.


Dragonlands


I'm so torn about this book/series. I will review them all as one, as the review is about the same for all three anyway, but I will avoid major spoilers. I read several harsh reviews and almost skipped this, but I'm glad I didn't.

I think I'm going to be generous and give this three stars. It hooked me quickly and kept propelling me forward way more than the recent mega-prize-winning novel which bored me to tears. This is a fairly good story, although it definitely needs some major work. An editor would have fixed every issue, and I probably would have given the book at least four stars, five if the editor was really fabulous.

The town of Hutton's Bridge has been cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious fog that brings death to all who enter. The town remains isolated for eighty years, until one day a dragon falls from the sky into town and dies in town square. Now the residents KNOW there is a world/life somewhere beyond the fog. Three heroes take off, looking for help for their sick village.

Great hook, eh? The story itself is, for the most (half? Two thirds?) part, interesting and pretty great, especially if you happen to be a big dragon fan like myself. But I have to mention the problems, because there are just too many to overlook.

The beginning almost lost me. It seemed like immature writing at first, though I'm glad I stuck with it, because the author found her groove and really does have skill as a writer. The prologue and chapter one are the weakest, mainly in the dialogue and flat characterization of the antagonists. Bad guys are bad with no redeeming features whatsoever. One-note bad guys with no complexity whom the author makes sure we will not like because they are Really, Really Jerks. This does change later in the books, but only to sneak surprise!badguys on us out of nowhere from people who were supposedly Not Jerks.

There's an undertone of misogyny that bothered me, especially since all of the leaders are females. So why so much talk of “whores” (literal sex workers, not name calling) and women's places and using boobs to accomplish much? I get that fantasy worlds tend to be a bit medieval and often are sexist, but when our main protagonist is a strong young woman and every single city and kingdom we see is run by women, then all the misogyny seemed really out of place. Luckily, that was mostly in book one, and it wasn't bad enough to make me put down the book. It's wholly unnecessary and doesn't make any sense, though.

There are lots of typos. That is a thing which GREATLY bothers me in professionally published work – luckily I got this for free. It says something about the strength of the story that I continued on to the end despite all of these typos. And the inconsistencies! So many inconsistencies! Our MC uses her Womanly Wiles to ask about tips when seeking work in a tavern, but they made a point of saying that no one in Hutton's Bridge used money. There were no taverns, no coin in circulation, so how does she even know about tips? More than once (yes, more than once) the author uses the simile of things “bubbling over like a volcano erupting” or something like that, but no one in Hutton's Bluff knows what a volcano is (we read from Hutton's Bridge viewpoint characters) and we never see any volcanoes in the world throughout the book. A character's name changes from Book 2 to Book 3. He was only mentioned by name once in Book 2, but still. That should have been caught long before publication. Book 2, I think it was, also mentions “I can't believe just one moon ago...” but it was actually several months back in Book 1. We also have Middle Book Love Triangle Syndrome – which came out of literal nowhere separating a supposed Lifelong True Love. The FIRST sentence in chapter one of Book 3 has a typo. Your opening sentence should be the strongest one! Also, the mysterious plague in HB was never explained, and when we next meet the villagers, no one is sick or needed the medicine/healers which our heroes didn't actually bring anyway.

Some timeline issues that bothered me early in Book 1 make more sense after learning some secret reveal info. I don't want to give anything away, but some of my gripes make better sense knowing this, so it's worth giving certain characters a healthier dose of suspension of disbelief.

However, my biggest issue was the ending of Book 3 (Retribution). We're left on an unacceptable cliffhanger. I don't mind leaving a -bit- unanswered for following books, especially if it's regarding a whole different plotline, but this book opens a can of about half a dozen new plot points at the very end and doesn't wrap any of them. Some were sudden and out of complete nowhere, no foreshadowing or even explanation. Just, “Surprise! This is actually now a completely different story. Buy the next book to learn more!”

It sounds like a whole lot of bad. And, I mean, yeah, that stuff is a pretty significant amount of bad. Some folks apparently had a lot of trouble with the sex, but these are all adults and sex is a normal part of life. Yes, even (especially!) sex after trauma and grief. The sex scenes are vanilla and completely ungraphic, usually of the 'fade to black' variety, so I don't see the issue unless you're just uncomfortable with sex existing and people/characters enjoying it.

All that said, I still liked the story and am seriously contemplating finishing the series by reading the last two books. I sped through them and enjoyed the ride! Only problem is, I don't really want to pay for the next two. As a writer myself, that's saying something. I find it hard to justify when there are so many issues which should have been -so easily- fixed before publication. The story would have been so much stronger, and I would have a healthier respect for the professionalism of the author. I sincerely hope she avails herself of one – a good one – because this could easily be a very amazing tale. As it is, it's just kind of so-so overall.