(2002-04-22)In The Shadow Of Dragons is Kathleen Cunnigham Guler’s second book in the Macsen’s Treasure Series. It combines elements of Celtic history, vocabulary and culture with romance, adventure and mystery in a thoroughly enjoyable story. Ms. Guler’s fluid, unstilted writing style along with her imaginative and wonderful characterizations of both historical and mythical figures kept me interested from the first chapter until the last.
Marcus ap Iorwerth, a rugged and totally honorable prince, is recruited by Myrddin Emrys, brother to Ambrosius, King of Britain, to assist him in protecting the crown from conspirators. Along with his beautiful, exceedingly courageous and strong-willed wife Claerwen, they travel from their homeland and become embroiled in intrigue after intrigue in their efforts to assist Myrddin. Myrddin, known best to us all later in his life as Merlin, and Claerwen, the daughter of a nobleman, displaced and ravaged by the endless wars that plagued Britain before Arthur, share the Druid’s sight, the ‘fire in the head’, that both warns them and guides them. Bonded as well by friendship and respect, these three characters form a rich, morally sound and steadfastly determined triad that ultimately prevails over the disparate and misguided leaders of the ethically primitive world in which they exist.
Aside from the intriguing plot twists and fascinating, semi-historical rendition of the age before Arthur, what is most striking about this book is the marvelous relationship between Marcus and Claerwen. Ms. Guler succeeds in portraying their relationship as one governed by mutual respect, devotion and love while simultaneously expressing their passion for each other first and foremost, in an always believable and tasteful way. They are so likeable as people and so completely human despite their seemingly superhuman ability to continuously evade and escape the endless traps and prisons into which they fall during the course of the book.
There are only two minor areas that I feel could have benefitted from an editor’s critique, and I mention them now reluctantly since I did entirely enjoy this book. The first seems to be restricted to the initial chapters of the book only, and perhaps was recognized by the author herself as the manuscript progressed. Early on, Ms. Guler seems to introduce her characters’ dialogue with unnecessary phrases such as ‘she remarked’, ‘she rationalized’ and ‘she told him’ as opposed to simply allowing them to speak without appending such descriptive prefaces to their words. At times, this style interrupted the flow and took the spontaneity out of their words. Additionally, a few of the situations that Marcus was able to extricate himself from were just too unbelievable. His captors were both aware of his reputation and thereby justifiably wary of his prowess, yet incredibly inept at disarming him and securing him properly. He escaped time and time again. As Ms Guler’s portrayal of both her heroes and her villains was almost always rich and multi-dimensional, this lapse in their abilities with regard to the precautions that they took to insure his captivity was somewhat incongruous with what I had come to expect of them. For the sake of maintaining the sense of competency at the least, I personally would have preferred them to be a bit less feckless.
For me, there are two criteria that determine how good I think a book is. The first is that I can not wait to open it whenever I have a spare minute, and I read until I absolutely must put it down. The second is that one or some of the characters live on in my memory as if I knew them, and that I do not easily or soon forget them. I can honestly say that In The Shadow Of Dragons meets both of the above standards. I thoroughly and unreservedly recommend this book. It was a totally pleasurable read.
Reviewed by Gary Wassner
Author of the GemQuest series
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