I discovered this book by happy chance, and by that, I really mean the search function in Smashwords. I was trying to find out which books would pop up given the words "dark" and "magic" and "erotic" (which tells you a lot more about my taste than you'd probably want to know, ever) and I found Let the Dragon Wake. (You could try this same search-phrase for yourself, if you're so inclined. At first, you will find books titled Hairy Peter and the Secret Chamberpot, but persevere.)
The cover was reasonably pretty and the blurb read like the kind of thing I'd love to cuddle up with after I finished reading my latest giggle-a-minute bodice-ripper. So I got it for $2.99, read the first few pages, and was absolutely and definitively floored. This wasn't a bodice-ripper. This was on such an entirely different plane of existence, it was like getting Grade-A Ambrosia when all you really asked for was a tall, cool glass of frothy Starbucks.
We start out with the linguistically-playfully named Wyrdrake. Honestly, that name is like one of those exquisite clockwork boxes that you open up and unfold, only to find more exquisite little boxes inside. For example:
1) There's "wyr" or "were" for "man" -- like in the man/wolfy sense of the "werewolf" -- and there's "drake" for "dragon".
2) Similarly, we could associate it with "mandrake" for bonus aphrodisiac properties, or the image of a man engaging in solitary love (since good old Wydrake's sort of loveless when his story starts out).
3 ) Or try out the concept "Wyrd" for "Fate" (since there's a lot of fate going on here).
4 ) Or even "wyrd" for "word" (since our protagonist lives in, of all places, a Fantastical Magical Library located at the very tippy-topmost tier of a magical city).
Anyway, my point.
We start out with Wyrdrake getting a message from King Fate, which effectively agrees to fulfill his one lifelong wish: Yes, I'll go ahead and make you the perfect wife. King Fate is a sort of god/king, and he can apparently marry anyone to anything. He can marry a person to, say, a shower of gold or a bowl of soup, and he once even married a whore to a flight of stairs (it was possibly a very attractive flight of stairs, considering that it's located in the very glamorous city of Sondolattis, which is stuffed so full of beauty and personality and miraculousness, it really wouldn't be any hardship to take it to bed).
Everyone is a magician here, but King Fate is the canniest magician of all. He agrees to produce a wife for lonesome Wydrake, but it comes with a condition. And what a condition it is!
The story rushes along with the creation of the beautiful Dovizel as she grows up with some definite ideas of her own about love and the giving of it. She and Wyrdrake engage in a charming tango of a courtship, involving soulful cats and celestial books and a gaggle of lovable sisters.
Along the way, we witness the growing jealousy and pettiness of King Fate's self-important apprentice Marr, and the arrival of a villain whose powers deal in Capital-M Magic and a most perverted and noxious kind of love. A word of warning: this villain pulls no punches, and has some genuinely gut-churning scenes. It could get harrowing. At time, the darkness and depravity burn almost as intensely as all the light and beauty in this book -- but "almost" is the operative word.
I have to admit, though, that the plotting could have been tighter. The book tended to go on captivating tangents, following after pretty but unnecessary things. Like this review, in fact. There were a few instances when my attention wandered slightly, and I didn't have any of those whoa! moments that the very sneakiest authors could spring on you at the climax, when all the plot points come together with a great big bang.
But this is a book with its heart in the right place. And its mind too. It has ideas upon ideas. It has all sorts of rollicking literary allusions (which aren't absolutely essential to understand, but are fun to pick up and collect). It makes a distinction between magic and Magic, which I think is -- more than epic battles between Good and Evil -- the single most important subject of fantasy fiction. And ultimately, it's a book about love (and all the different faces of "marriage"): and love is the single most important subject for books, and people in general.
If you love the fantasy genre, if you love the literary tradition, if you love words, if you love gorgeous cities with an underlying current of the most delicious and marvelous fearsomeness: then run, don't walk, to get this book.
SUMMARY: In this 7k-word short story, orphan Amyke lives in the ancient city of Alalakh and is forced to slave away in a beer-shop owned by the wicked Beltu and her spoiled, self-centered daughter Sabitu. The story follows her coming-of-age ordeal when she offers herself up in the temple of Mylitta, hoping for handsome woodcutter Muru while trying to avoid the attentions of a foul and beastly shapeshifter. Can her dashing woodcutter save her from the monster? Or will this fusion of Cinderella/Red Riding Hood/ancient Near East mythology produce a different conclusion?
Sylvia Volk's prose is as lush, sensual, and visceral as ever. The descriptions engage all five senses and are punctuated with some truly startling images. (I've never seen a werewolf's voice described in such detail before, and definitely not with those details in particular.) The story also flows well, in a way that could be described as cinematic. Each scene is strong, and leads naturally into the next.
I'm dropping one star because I never really had enough time with Amyke or Muru to really appreciate their characters, but all in all, it's a tight little story, filled with suspense and exotic detail.
Note: Received the story for free via author's LJ.