Title: Dragon Slayer (The Empty Crown #1)
Author: Isabella Carter
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 40k words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Series, Dragons, Alternate World Historical, Secrets & Lies, Royalty, Arranged Marriage, Magic, Unusual Creatures, Family Issues, Cliff (small!), Slow Burn
Rating: Really Liked It
Ingram is a coward and weakling—at least according to his father, the king, and the royal court. He cannot use a sword, he faints at the sight of blood, and even his brilliant abilities as a strategist are not enough to overcome his failings. When his father loses a bet to the notorious Lord Mallory over the matter of a dragon slaying, he pays his debt by ordering Ingram to marry him.
Then his father reveals that he is putting Ingram to a greater purpose, giving Ingram one last chance to prove he is not worthless. All it requires is betraying his new husband.
I really have grown to love Isabella Carter’s books. So I was really excited for this one, which not only promises to be an in-depth story because it’s the first of a series, but also that I know she likes to really dig into her fantasy worlds. In many ways you can see that this book is a setup, but if you didn’t know it was the first book of a series, I think you’d find that it felt like a whole book. It isn’t just setup, but it does a really good job of giving us the story and leaving the ending open. So yes, it’s important to know that this is the first of a series so that even though you get some resolution, you won’t be surprised that there is a bit of a cliffhanger ending.
Ingram has become the weakling that his father has always accused him of being. Though he’s learned that nothing he does can make his father — the king of Abelen — proud, he’s found his own strengths. They aren’t in what a prince is expected to be, strong at swordplay, but he has a fine mind and has shown himself to be an expert strategist with the King’s miliary.
Abelen is still growing and recovering from a rebellion little more than twenty years previously. The country and King has become more insular, with the Lords abandoning their keeps to spend most of their time in the capital of Solberg. The royals have grown further apart from their people. But, an old feud lingers from Winterveil, the northernmost region of Abelen. Lord Mallory is a young man, but has inherited the feud. He makes a wager with King Roderick, that if he kills the red dragon who has gone into madness and is killing indiscriminately, that he will wed one of the King’s children. When he brings the head of the dragon to court and Roderick casually gives him Ingram, Ingram is hurt and scared to be thrown away to such a dangerous man.
But more is work in such an alliance, on both sides. The King gives Ingram a mission, one that finds him at an impasse when he learns just how wonderful Mallory is, and how much living in a place like Winterveil is more like home than his own family.
There is so much that I could say about this book, but it really should be experienced while reading it and… honestly there is so much going on in the book, so many characters with each one having their own machinations in place that it was a little hard for me to keep up. This is a book that does well as the first of a series — it holds up. Still, for those of you who like to get a lot of the action and information at once and don’t want to wait for the sequel, you might want to do that this time. Because while I really loved this book and I was totally sucked into it, I also feel like there is a lot of subtlety that will benefit from a second or even third read and will also make more sense after I can read the next book in the series. Hopefully, that will be soon!
I know a lot of you who are fans of Less Than Three Press like I am, and this is really their kind of book, the quintessential LT3 fantasy, though maybe a little less sweet than many of them. Ingram goes through quite a bit of angst about his relationship with his father. It’s tough to watch, not only because I grew to care about him, but also because it makes for difficult reading at times. I want him to realize what is happening to him. But we’re privy to information that he isn’t, and he also has to deal with a lifetime of manipulation by the people around him, the people he cares most about. So, while his choices and thoughts are frustrating, they’re also true to his character.
There’s one more point I’d like to touch on. The relationship between Ingram and Mallory in this book is very light. I imagine that the relationship arc is going to take place over the whole series, so don’t expect much romance in this first book. Mallory does court Ingram, in his own way, but it’s a very slow getting-to-know-you kind of thing. It’s actually very sweet, and it’s a very slow-burn romance.
So, I definitely recommend this one. Unless you want to wait, I say go ahead and get this now and read it. I’m so glad I didn’t wait and decided to read it right away, because it was a really fun read for me.