Heat Factor: Waggly eyebrows, for the most part
Character Chemistry: Oenyn and Richard are cute together, but it’s more about Oenyn’s growth as a young man
Plot: Oenyn, accidentally acquired by Madfall as a baby, is raised as a dragon. Richard is going to slay the dragon. Oenyn is not on board with that.
Overall: The real hero here is Madfall, whom I love.
Heart of the Dragon caught my attention because, um, it’s about a dragon. But it’s even better than that! Rather than reinventing dragon mythology, Sullivan leans in to what already exists, so a thieving, treasure-hoarding dragon attempts to steal treasure from the king…only to discover he’s accidentally acquired a human baby. Madfall’s error leads him to make excuse after excuse until he’s permanently adopted a human child for himself. A human child who grows up as a dragon, isolated except for brief excursions into the village to purchase food and goods (after he tells the dragon that stealing is wrong when he’s twelve). Oenyn is curious about the world, but knows he’s loved by Madfall, and is happy to live his life as a human raised by a dragon.
And Madfall grouches and grumbles that Oenyn is a dragon, which is adorable.
After six years of seeing nothing of the dragon, a chance sighting in the kingdom spurs the king to issue a reward to any man who brings back the heart of the dragon and leads the king to the dragon’s treasure. Richard, in an attempt to prove himself after feeling marginally inadequate his whole life, takes on the quest. And regrets it immediately because how stupid is it to sail a tiny boat in a turbulent sea up to a rocky cliff wall in an attempt to kill a giant, fire-breathing monster? P-r-e-t-t-y stupid. But he is surprised to find not a dragon but a young man in the dragon’s lair. So surprised, Richard is neatly captured by Oenyn, who really expected it to be just a little bit harder to defeat a knight.
To be honest, this story is less about romance and more about love. Madfall adores Oenyn, turning his life upside down and inside out for the child, wanting only what’s best for his son. Even if that means letting him go live among humans after Richard reveals intricacies of the human experience to Oenyn as they get to know each other.
Oenyn, as a young man, is at the point of being prepared to begin his own life as an adult, but with the arrival of Richard, he realizes that he has choices to make about what that looks like. The important thing for him is that, even though he knows he’s human and that he wants to explore that part of himself, he also knows he loves his adoptive father and doesn’t want to give up the dragon part of himself.
For his part, Richard has to learn to think outside of the confines of what he’s been taught his whole life. When he thinks Oenyn is a victim suffering from some kind of Stockholm syndrome, Oenyn makes him realize that Madfall isn’t a monster, and Oenyn has a clear understanding of himself and his boundaries.
The conflict is extremely low-key. Madfall finds a child and must decide what he’s going to do with it. Richard tries to slay the dragon and has to figure out how to survive being captured. Oenyn meets Richard and suddenly realizes he has a choice to make as an adult human living in a world that is decidedly dragon-unfriendly. Even though there’s a quest element, and the story could be full of derring-do, it’s much more about the emotional lives of the protagonists involved, which is totally satisfying.
Oenyn’s bantery exchanges with Madfall and Richard make the book a fun read. And Oenyn’s understanding of what’s important to him and what his boundaries are, make this a truly heartwarming read. That and Madfall’s utterly willing transformation from a treasure-hoarding loner to a loving, supportive parent. Warm fuzzies all around, friends!
Note: This book, originally published in 2018, has been republished in June 2020.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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