Debut author Joshua McCune’s gritty and heart-pounding novel is a masterful reimagining of popular dragon fantasy lore, set in a militant future reminiscent of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker and Ann Aguirre’s Outpost.
It’s a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population. Joshua McCune’s debut novel offers action, adventure, fantasy, and a reimagining of popular dragon lore.– Goodreads
This book quickly started off on the wrong foot for me with the quote:
“Stubborn look? At least I don’t have the whore look.” — 4%, ARC
The main character thought this to herself fairly early in the novel. That probably taints my view of this novel because I was so annoyed by her that early in the book. We learn quickly that Melissa does not like dragons, a main plot point of the novel. Her mother loved and adored dragons, couldn’t see them hurting anyone, and then one hurt her. To say Melissa is bitter towards dragons would be the understatement of the century.
What people Melissa’s age do for fun is go to the Rez and ‘play’ with the dragons. Just to see them. Melissa continues to be bitter and loathe the dragons, while the rest of her family seems to have no feels at all towards the dragons. Yeah, I didn’t fully understand it either. Her father who works on the Rez, knows what the teenagers do, but doesn’t care because the dragons are harmless.
They killed his wife. But they are harmless. OH. OKAY. Maybe I’m an overly bitter person who holds grudges too long, but I have a hard time believing that.
Then we go to James who is first described as
Bronzed skin. Sweeping black hair. A slightly crooked nose, probably broken a couple of times. A strong jawline. And to top it off, blue eyes that burn with intensity. — 7%, ARC
I’m not sure I’ve ever looked at a boy that way. The whole thing seemed out of character to me, or as much as it could because Melissa excels at being a flat character to me. I spent most of the novel going “REALLY?!” to her. James tends to disappear on Melissa after warning her of impending doom.
Melissa’s family (her brother, father and her) are good at using their words to cut someone to the bone. This is important to note, because not only are most families good at this, but because at one point Sam, Melissa’s brother, goes missing. The same day, they are requested to get to school at the crack of dawn for a drill because the school has better dragon shelters than their houses do.
That is the moment this history major had flashbacks to reading about the 1950/60s and bomb shelters.
Melissa can tell right away that this is not a normal drill so she continues to worry even more about her brother. The world around her quickly becomes a war zone that while McCune goes to great lengths to describe is ultimately not that memorable.
James with the bronzed skin and sweeping black hair comes back, in a hospital of all places during the aftermath of the attack. Then, in a hospital bed after a gunshot wound (that comes from nowhere. Again ALL the action, none of it that memorable…), Melissa finds out her worst fear. Her mother was an insurgent.
“A lot to deal with? I’m God knows where, surrounded by dragons, lying in a–” I throw my arms up to indicate the crate/hospital room, and pain explodes in my shoulder. “Whatever the hell this thing is. I’ve been shot. The government thinks I’m a traitor. Runs in the family, evidently. And Dad…”–20%, ARC
Throughout all of this, I continued to find it hard to connect to Melissa. She is freaking out, but I never got her freaking out. I never really felt for her.
And that is when I could feel Tina be proud of me, because I DNF this book at 21% because there are so many better books out there than this. At least to me.