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For a thousand years, since their defeat of the Shadow at Eyr, the dragons have slept under the mountains. Now their king, Tarnamell, has woken. Driven mad by loneliness, he hurls himself south until he finds and tries to claim the Alagard Desert. Unfortunately, the desert already has a guardian spirit, and he doesn’t want to share. Amused by the cocky little desert spirit, Tarn retreats, planning to return in human form.
When his caravan enters the desert, however, Alagard is missing. Rumors fly of a dark power, and soon Tarn’s caravan encounters the living dead and an amnesiac mage called Gard.
Forced to take refuge in the Court of the Shells, a legendary fortress in the heart of the desert, Tarn, Gard, and their allies decide to seek out the Shadow before it destroys the desert. But to confront the Shadow, Tarn needs to gather his strength. A dragon’s power depends on the love and loyalty of his human hoard, but Tarn’s original hoard has been dead for centuries. Before he can face his most ancient enemy, he must win the trust of new followers and the heart of a cynical desert spirit.
For fantasy fans, Reawakening is a pretty smashing novel, filled with beautiful exotic settings, creatures of lore (dragons!), fighting gods, battlemaidens, the walking dead, and a dark menacing villain that can infiltrate your heart. It’s got sword fights, daring escapes across the desert, a developing romance (and yes, sexy times), and most of all, a lot of adventure.
Tarn the dragon is awakened after centuries of sleep to find his treasured hoard depleted and the world having moved on without him. While on an evening flight, he gets the taste of something new, something strange and spicy and hot, an angry desert spirit that is NOT HAPPY to have a dragon invading his sandy domain. Tarn is quite smitten by the spirit’s irate attempts to kick him out, and the dragon vows to return to the desert to woo him properly and make him part of his new hoard.
And thus Tarn’s adventure begins, as he changes into his human form and joins a trade caravan bound for the same desert that he’s madly crushing on. His wooing plan has started. He just has to find his angry spirit.
But when they arrive, the desert is a much different, far more deadly place than the warm, welcoming realm it had been on his first post-sleep flight. The dead are rising and attacking travelers, and Tarn finds that things look eerily similar to a war he’s fought before.
That’s the gist of the beginning of the story, and it just takes off from there. I personally found the blurb with the book confusing, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I came into this 100% because I loved Durreson’s free fantasy novella The Lodestars of Ys. That was a wonderful story, so I bypassed the blurb, and dove in, feeling pretty safe that the author could provide a good fantasy story for her first full-length novel, and I’m happy to report that it was a great read.
I would qualify this story as fantasy first, romance second, although don’t worry romance fans, it has a lot of that (plus quite a few intimate scenes.) But the weight of the story is one that is fantasy, about a dragon’s quest to rebuild his world and his heart, and to conquer an old enemy. Along the way, he not only meets his match in Alagard, the fierce yet very flirty desert spirit, but also picks up a crew of wonderful side characters, each who have their own distinct personality, from the older sworldswoman Ia to flirty young buck Dit to haughty yet caring caravan leader Sethan.
For people who bemoan the lack of diverse characters or developed female characters in m/m, I definitely recommend this book because it has a wide array of rich characters, including a lot of queer male and female side characters. (Sethan’s caravan has a bit of a reputation of being a safe haven for those who are “sparkly” or who prefer same-sex partners, so there are a lot of couples in the background.)
As for the main romance, Tarn and Gard’s back-and-forth is pretty sparkly on its own. Gard’s fierce need for independence makes him come off more fiery than Tarn ironically (since Tarn is the one that can breathe fire), but Tarn is like a giant Great Dane—someone who is so powerful (even in his limited human form) that he’s far more relaxed compared to Gard’s bouncing, flitting energy. (Although even ancient dragons can get a little jealous, lost, and sad at the thought of his beloved not wanting him back.)
Durreson’s writing is smooth and clean, and paints a bright world in full color, even when that world is dune upon dune of endless white sand. It’s a very creative, imaginative story, and for those who like being transported to other worlds, you can find safe passage here.
My only down points are that at some points in the middle of the story (and the novel is over 89,000 words), the journey did feel a little rambling. I also often found myself having a hard time reading the name of Ia, one of the side characters—my eyes would blow right over her name, and I had to restart a lot of the paragraphs where she is featured. And you can call me a heathen, but I almost could have done without some of the sex scenes. They were all well written, but some of them felt a little extended or filler-ish compared to the rest of the story.
But overall, I think it’s a really great fantasy novel, and would definitely recommend it for those who are m/m fantasy fans, especially ye olde dragon fans, since Tarn gets to have some fun scenes in dragon form.
With what I’ve seen so far, I think Durreson is a bright new star in m/m fantasy writing. I’m looking forward to whatever world she unveils next.