Title: Tears of a Dragon
Author: Sulayman X
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Buy Link: Buy Link Tears of a Dragon
Genre: fantasy / paranormal
Length: Novel (294 pdf pages)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: An LGBT- themed Quest in the manner of the classics of high fantasy.
The Blurb: S. Mortimer Bookin is curious. It’s what makes him such a good scholar. He’s curious about the world around him, about his dead parents, about what it might be like to meet another Contrary man like himself. Then roguish and Contrary Kai warrior Prince Allender shows up on his doorstep, and Mortimer is entranced. The catch? Allender comes with baggage: a host of Contrary youths he wants to train in the ways of the Kai brotherhood… with Mortimer as their teacher.
Mortimer’s curiosity and growing fascination with Allender trump his love of routine, and he commits to a perilous journey to obtain the Kai Overlord’s blessing for the school. It’s a quest that will take him from home to the Zu-Kai Isle, on to the frozen north, and all the way to the mystical Dragon Isle. Mortimer and Allender grow closer with each mile, but when Allender is injured, it will fall to Mortimer to lead their ragtag brotherhood to procure the overlord’s price—the tears of a dragon.
The Review: Contraries, people who feel attracted to the same gender, aren’t exactly popular in the fantasy world of the Five Kingdoms. Prince Allender, firstborn son of the king, was passed over in the line of succession to the throne because he’s a Contrary. He became a Kai warrior instead, following the teachings of Master Khel. Prince Allender dreams about forming his own Kai warrior brotherhood which would accept any Contraries, male and female, regardless of race. Over time, he has assembled a bunch of followers and trained them well in the Kai martial arts. He has also already acquired a mystic for their spiritual education, Ylnam, who is a Yag, a genderless giant being, and a weapons master, Bollo, a Nurian warrior.
But a Kai warrior isn’t perfect if he’s unlettered, which is why Allender needs a scholar, too. There’s only one Contrary scholar he knows of in his father’s kingdom, Salice Mortimer Bookin. Allender approaches the somewhat reclusive scholar, requesting Mortimer accompanies him and his group to the Isle of Kai where they hope to form their Contrary Brotherhood with the blessings of the Kai Overlord.
Even though Mortimer never left his home, he has dreamt of exploring before. At first, Mortimer is reluctant to leave his comfortable, settled life behind. But Mortimer’s old master always used to encourage him to put his knowledge to use, and now that the perfect opportunity arises, Mortimer realizes his time to stand idly by and watch life pass him is over. It still takes him a while to make up his mind, but in the end, he follows Allender.
During their adventurous journey to Zu-Kai Isle, Mortimer becomes accustomed to traveling, body and mind. It certainly helps that he and Allender fall in love with each other, to a point where Mortimer can’t imagine being without Allender anymore. When they finally stand before the Kai Overlord, they receive some rather enigmatic advice and a new quest, to go to Dragon Isle and fetch the tears of a dragon, which are said to have immense healing power.
On their journey to the Dragon Isle, they stop at the city of Bluen, capital of the Sky Folk, who are winged, humanoid beings of supernatural beauty. Mortimer wants to consider the famous Bluen library on the matter of dragons, since none of them seems to have an idea about how they are supposed to fulfill their task. But aside from knowledge about dragons, Mortimer also learns several facts about himself, his parents and his old master which turn his world completely upside down.
Upon arrival at Dragon Isle, they discover that the dragons are not the only danger they’ll have to face here. Grimmords are dwelling in the caves, mean, trollish creatures. During a fight with a Grimmord, Allender is badly hurt.
The band is now literally caught between a rock and a hard place. They can’t leave the cave because of the dragons, but they can’t stay there either, because it’s likely that more Grimmords will turn up soon. Mortimer suddenly finds himself in a position where the others look to him for advice, and it’s suddenly upon him to figure out a way to get their task done and to keep them all safe.
This wasn’t an action-packed adventure, but rather a slow paced quest/ journey with some fighting sequences mixed in. The focus was apparently on the inner workings of the protagonists, namely Mortimer’s, who is supposedly about thirty, but doesn’t show the maturity fitting his age. In the beginning, he is rather incapable, bookish and hesitant. It takes him tediously long to make up his mind whether he wants to follow Allender or not. But in the end, he has learned to stand up to challenges, even if they scare him.
For the most part, Allender is well-drawn, a real, full – fleshed hero and leader, up until the end where he suddenly seems to act out of character. His behavior might be necessary for the plot, but left me with questions about his integrity – the same is true for Ylnam. Apparently both always knew the solution to the group’s peril, but left everybody else in the dark “to teach them a lesson”. After the buildup before, this was quite disappointing.
From the rest of the group only two were fully worked out, Ryn, a former slave boy, and Racalla, the only female Contrary among them. In fact, Racalla had so much page time, she almost stole Allender’s and Mortimer’s show. The others, while lovingly sketched, remained a bit flat and in the background. Granted, this is the first book in a series; the other group members might come into their own in later installments.
This story in the style of a high-fantasy novel mixed elements in an interesting way. While the lore was mostly Western, the martial arts scenes and the philosophy of the Kai warriors showed strong Asian leanings. The opening scene appears as if it was an homage to Tolkien with Allender’s party arriving in dribs and drabs at Mortimer’s house and Mortimer scuttling to and fro to serve them and being ordered about for his efforts.
Overall, the worldbuilding was inherently consistent. The writing was a bit stilted at times, which might be suitable for the theme, but didn’t appeal to me much. I found the book very slow to begin, and some parts were quite long drawn-out. Ylnam’s teachings took much page time. They were mostly philosophical contemplations of gender roles, the nature of Contrariness, love, and so on, all interesting and very educational themes which nevertheless slowed the book down. Although this book isn’t prudish when it comes to nudity, all sorts of interactions of the more intimate kind are only hinted at. (For those who need to know, there is no on-page sex in this book.)
If a pigeon hole is required, I’d sort this among YA fantasy novel with LGBT content – in which regard it may work just fine for other readers, particularly for fans of that genre.