Dragon Prince—Melanie Rawn
"No!" She glared at her friend for the first time in their lives, and Cami's dark skin flushed with the shock. "I'm not sure, I tell you. It may be I'll accept him, and it may be that I won't." And after only a brief talk with Rohan she was ready to behave this way to friends of a lifetime. What had he done to her? She began to realize that he was a dangerous man indeed. (90)This was the alternate book for the Vaginal Fantasy book club for the month of April. (My blog post about the main pick, The Mirror of Her Dreams, is here.)
In this sweeping fantasy which has been compared by some to the Song of Ice and Fire series, we get a view of the politics and treachery at play. The Prince of Stronghold (aka the desert area of this land), Zehava, dies tragically, leaving his young son to rule in his place. Determined to change the way that things are managed, not least the way that dragons are treated, the newly promoted Prince Rohan agrees to the marriage arranged by his aunt, who is also the leader of the Sunrunners. Although he doesn't know it, his intended Sioned has known about him almost all her life because she saw him in a vision once; after all, she is a young Sunrunner herself, being trained by Rohan's aunt. Throughout the next 500 pages, we get to know the young couple, their families, and the "villain" the High Prince Roelstra (who harkens back to Henry VIII with his seeming inability to have sons).
I really wanted to like this book, and I enjoyed all of the world building, but ultimately I had more issues with it than things that I appreciated.
One of my biggest problems with love stories are the ones that include a couple that is "fated" to be together. Even worse than the "love at first sight" trope, this one occurs most often in romances which have supernatural/paranormal elements. This was a huge plot point in this book, that Sioned and Rohan are meant to be together, because she saw his face in a vision. Although there are all sorts of political machinations that have to take place in order for them to be together—because Rohan is the Prince of the Desert after the untimely death of his father, and has to consider the political implications of his marriage—they know from the second they lay eyes on each other that the love is for real. As exemplified in the above quote, Sioned starts treating lifelong friends like poop after having interacted with Rohan for about five seconds. I feel no empathy with a character who reacts that way.
Along with this device was another of my biggest problems: the constant and overwhelming threat of rape, and in this case, the actual act itself several times. Now, I understand that in actual life, the threat of sexual assault is all too real. But one, it's fantasy so maybe we can fantasize that we live in a world where that's not the case, and two, I don't appreciate it being used solely as a character building device. In Dragon Prince, it moves the plot along, but not in any way that I appreciated or didn't absolutely abhor. One of the plot points involves one of the High Prince Roelstra's daughters, Ianthe, kidnapping and raping Rohan in order to get pregnant with his son, since his wife Sioned seems to be unable to carry a child to term. (After Ianthe has already made Rohan break his marriage vows, he proceeds to violently rape Ianthe in return.)
I started out admiring Rohan and his desire to change the political landscape, but there were several aspects of him that made me change my mind. The way that he was so jealous about Sioned having other men in her life made it seem like he felt she was his property. I didn't love that he slept with Sioned when she was clearly drugged, even though she said that it was okay. You've waited all this time, you can't wait until the drugs have worn off?
It got worse later when Sioned and Rohan conspire to murder Ianthe and steal the child that is the product of Ianthe raping Rohan. They justified it to themselves: Sioned had a vision that this would be her child. Sioned says to Rohan: "You tell me there was rape. Didn't she and Andrade do the same to us? Andrade used me, Ianthe used you." NO. Somebody manipulating you and deceiving you is not equitable to rape, and EVEN IF IT WAS, THAT DOESN'T WARRANT YOU MURDERING SOMEONE AND STEALING THEIR CHILD! Sioned and Rohan are portrayed as this loving, amazing, heroic, above-it-all couple and yet they are no better than the antagonists are, in my book. In fact, they are enabled at every turn. For example, you can see this in this exchange between Rohan and his brother-in-law Chay:
"I enjoyed slaughtering Jastri's army. I enjoyed raping Ianthe. I'm going to love destroying Roelstra. Look what that makes of me."NOPE. Slaughtering other human beings and enjoying raping someone do not make you a man. No.
"It makes you a man like the rest of us," Chay said quietly. (491)
In the end, I found all of the characters reprehensible, and I don't think that's how Rawn intended for me to feel. I felt absolutely no compulsion to continue reading the series to see what happens, and I'm usually too much of a completionist to leave a series unfinished once I've started it.