Dragonswood

Dragonswood - Janet Lee Carey Dragonswood is a strange little novel that starts out well enough, then splinters off into various fragments of stories. As it keeps going, it suffers under its own weight as it tries to reconcile the many different plot threads running through it. Any one of these different threads would make for a decent novel alone, but when they’re all crammed together, none of them have enough weight to actually be interesting.THE GOODRoughly the first half of this book is decent, if meandering. The focus remains on Tess and her desire to help out her friends, since all of them are on the run and accused of being witches. Tess is responsible for the whole mess, so she feels responsible for putting it to rights. That’s perfectly fine and cohesive. There’s not much that actually happens, but there’s plenty of things that have the potential to develop, so I was willing to be patient and see how it turned out.Tess herself, in the first half, is a good character. She’s resourceful and determined, and she’s properly paranoid for a girl on the run from a maniacal witch hunter. I liked her friends as well; they made a good little team of friends.THE BADThe second half of the novel, oh dear. Where to begin. As soon as Tess leaves to find the fairies, everything pulls apart. For the last half, we’re introduced to so many different plot elements that it’s hard to tell which ones are supposed to be important. Turns out, none of them are. We follow one plot for a while, get distracted by a different plot and follow that instead, then another, then another. Tess gets jerked here and there, changing her motivations and goals in an instant. Huge ideas are introduced, then simply used as a vehicle to take her to the next temporary plot. It’s extremely hard to follow, and some of the ideas don’t even make sense. Bad guys aren’t given enough weight to be properly threatening, and the closest thing we have to a climax is one person giving a speech that ends up fixing everything. Um…riveting?The world-building here felt very lackluster as well. Like the plot, it’s very much split into halves, with the first half being in the ‘normal’ world of 12th century Ireland (ish) and the second half being a world of dragons and fairies. Except these two worlds exist at the same time, on the same island, openly. Everyone knows fairies are real, but their existence doesn’t change anything from the generic old-time-y historical feel. It’s just “12th century. Oh, and also dragons, because I guess why not?”Tess in the second half of the novel grated on me. She abandoned her tough and paranoid persona of the first half and devolved into just a typical YA romance lead.It’s very easy to tell who in this novel is good or bad. Simply look for anyone with modern-day morals and sensibilities. Tess is very much a second-wave feminist, which would be find if only she didn’t live in the 12th century. There’s ways to have a character believe that she shouldn’t be property without having her also sound like a modern teenager stuck in the past. When the love interest shows up, he shares all her ideals with her, to the letter and without so much as flinching. There’s even a line about bear-baiting, shoved in just so that Tess can say she doesn’t like it, because heaven forbid she be a product of her environment in any possible way.THE UGLYI was very unhappy with the amount of domestic abuse displayed in this novel. It wasn’t treated with any amount of grace, and it was only brought up when Tess wanted to harp on how much she expected the Male Lead to hit her, so she could be shocked when he didn’t. If domestic abuse exists solely so that one character can be praised for not hitting a woman, then it shouldn’t be included at all.Same goes for torture. There are some graphic depictions of torture at the start of the novel, but they have no lasting consequences or impact on the character. Even though she repeatedly references her damaged thumbs (from thumbscrews), she’s able to use her hands just the same as ever, and she only experiences emotional trauma when faced with the person who tortured her. Why even include it all?