When I first started this book, I went in knowing that many of my friends had given it one star. I was confused. Sure, it was clichéd and slow-moving, but it was still a pretty fun read, certainly nothing worthy of such abysmal ratings. I enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere, probably because boarding school stories always have a special place in my heart. Armand intrigued me, even if Jesse and Lora didn’t, but that’s par for the course with me. And then, somewhere around the middle of the book…it’s like the editor just gave up and said “look, they’ve bought it by this point and we’ve got their money, so sure, write whatever you want.” Every annoying thing that had been present, but restrained, in the book before that point suddenly went no-holes-barred. The purple prose, the ridiculous love story, the complete and utter focus on romance, the mind-boggling lack of any sort of explanation, all of it came at me full-force. I kept reading to the end just to see if it would ever revert back to the comparative quality of the beginning. The romance really did take over this book and drown it. There were a lot of things that the book did surprisingly well, especially with the characters of Chloe and Armand. I loved them. Chloe went from a typical one-dimensional mean girl to something…else. I was fascinated by her interactions with Lora, the way she was not quite a friend, but nowhere near an enemy. Armand’s history was infinitely more interesting to me than Lora’s, especially since he didn’t have a Convenient Love Interest to swoop in and say “by the by, this is what’s up with your powers.” Lora had the potential to be just as interesting, but she dropped all emotional reactions about the paranormal aspect in favor of being in love with Jesse instead. Kind of hamstringed things in the ‘liking Lora’ department.Speaking of the paranormal aspect, that was bungled badly. Lora finds out the cause of her powers, and her only reaction is to say “oh, coolbeans.” She has no questions or doubts, which means we get no explanations. So Lora is a dragon, eh? Um…what does that mean? Are there other dragons? Is there a reason she looks like a girl? Is that normal, is she under a spell, does ‘dragon’ mean something other than ‘big magic lizard’ in this mythology? (Hey, after Twilight, anything’s possible.) These questions and more will never be asked, much less answered, within this book. Jesse also tells her that he is a “star man.” And that means…fuck all if I know. Lora rolls right along with that, as well, going so far as to introduce him as a “star man” even though that has absolutely no context or meaning to the readers.It was extremely irritating to me to have the paranormal aspect so downplayed. Without any angst, mystery, or confusion about Lora’s nature, that aspect became more of a set-piece than an actual part of the plot. There was nothing about her draon-i-tude that had to be solved or dealt with; it was just there. Instead, most of the book dwelt on how much she loved Jesse. And she only loved him in the first place because magic-mumbo-jumbo, not because of any significant personality connection or anything like that.After reading the book I found out that the author has an entire series of adult books that deal with her dragons, presumably developing a full mythology and culture around them. This book even alludes to characters in that other book. However, since this is a new series and there’s absolutely nothing that says "hey, read The Smoke Thief first," it should be able to stand on its own. It doesn’t.I did quite enjoy the ending, though. It was one of the rare few times when they saw danger coming, I started yelling “JUST DO X!” and they went and did X. It was quite a fun little fight scene that allowed for some creative maneuvering.