Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Dream Thief by Shana Abe & Burning Bright

Shana Abe scores again with this sequel to last years "The Smoke Thief" which was an elegant tale of Dragon-human hybrids living in Victorian England.
This book continues the tale of the Drakon, but from the POV of the street-wise cutpurse and thief Zane, who was saved from death by the current ingenue's mother in the first novel. Amalia Langford is the fourth child of the clan, and hasn't shown any of the Gifts of her siblings, with the exception of her mothers talent for willful flouting of the Drakon rules. She hears the "singing" of jewels, in particular, the Dramur, a blue diamond that has the power to rule the Drakon, turning them into mindless slaves. There's a grim legend with the stone, of course, and poor "Lia" as Amalia is called, dreams every night of a future in which Zane marries her, finds the stone and kills her entire family.
After taking this dream to Zane as a teenager, he reacts like a jerk and doesn't believe her, but after she reaches adulthood, Lia comes to him with an offer to accompany her on the quest for Dramur and he accepts.
What follows is a typical quest myth, fraught with trouble and deepening sexual tension between Lia and Zane.
Abe is a master of evocative, sensual prose that begs to be read aloud, so as to hear it glide across the tongue. Her first three paragraphs are weepingly beautiful, and she never lets the plot and the pace lag during the entire novel. My only qualm is that there aren't more love scenes between Lia and Zane. Abe is one of the rare authors who can write a sex scene without florid, embarrasing euphemisms, such as heaving bosoms and throbbling manliness. She lets the reader feel the sensual passion of one kiss, a lingering touch, or a taste of silken skin. Her love scenes are hypnotic and hot, yet they fit in with the action of the novel so well, one doesn't feel they're at all gratuitous.
If you find dragons fascinating and enjoy adventure and a tightly-paced love story, you'll enjoy this book.
I wasn't as enamored of Tracy Chevalier's latest work, "Burning Bright" which was supposedly about artist and poet William Blake. I've read all of Chevalier's works, and as in her other novels, we see the action of the era through the eyes of the common people, instead of the famed artist. In this case, the common people are a chair-maker and his family, and a street-wise urchin and her grifter parents and cruel brother. The Chair maker and his kin move to London in hopes of setting up a new life after the death of the eldest son, and though their hamlet is not that far from London, it's apparently a completely different world, because they fall prey to the many horrid goings-on in the nastier parts of London during the reign of King George (the 18th century). Maisie and Jem, her brother, get involved with the street urchin, Maggie, and spy on their neighbor, the stern and terrifying Wm Blake. They all become involved with a circus man and his horrible wastrel son, who manages to get several women pregnant by the end of the book. There was a great deal of description of the filth and grime of 18th century London, of the ignorance and pestilence, and the terrible way children were treated at the time. While I understand all that, I was hoping for a bit more insight into the brilliance of Blakes poetry and illustrations. We get very little of that in this novel, which dwells on the evils of society in relation to women more than the artistry of Blake. There was little relief from the horrific descriptions of London and its denizens, and I was rather disappointed in that. I found the idea of being next door to Blake intriguing, but Chevalier never comes through for her readers and satisfies their curiosity as to what the mans mindset was like, or why he wrote the passionate poetry that he created and printed. Unless you find the gritty side of 18th century London fascinating, I'd give this book a pass.

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