Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on Oct. 6, 2015
Genres: Fiction, Romantic suspense
Source: my personal collection, the publisher through NetGalley
Although it goes against her workaholic nature, literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw lets herself be whisked off to Wales for the Christmas holidays by her star client, flamboyant children's author Bridget Cooper. She suspects Bridget has ulterior motives, but the lure of South Wales with its castles and myths is irresistible. Perhaps a change of scene will bring relief from the nightmares that have plagued her since the death of her child.
Lyn immerses herself in the peace and quiet of the charming Welsh village, but she soon meets an eccentric young widow who's concerned her baby son is in danger—and inexplicably thinks Lyn is the child's protector.
Lyn's dreams become more and more disturbing as she forms a surprisingly warm friendship with a reclusive, brooding playwright, and is pulled into an ancient world of Arthurian legend and dangerous prophecies. Before she can escape her nightmares, she must uncover the secret of her dreams, which is somehow inextricably located in a time long ago and far away...
I received a review copy of this book from my personal collection, the publisher through NetGalley.
I started reading Named of the Dragon immediately after finishing Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic. Kearsley has been compared to Stewart, and indeed Named of the Dragon has a very Stewart-like feel, updated to more modern times. Kearsley is as easily as good as Stewart at writing description and setting. In this case the setting is (mostly) Wales; since I’ve been there several times, I was able to picture it all the more clearly. It’s a landscape that speaks to me on a very deep level, and I loved the chance to revisit it in my mind’s eye.
Like Stewart, Kearsley is also wonderful at creating and revealing character, layer by layer, and at writing first-person narrative. Her main character, Lyn, is both strong and a little fragile, haunted by her baby’s death but determinedly going on with her life. She’s a literary agent, and good at her job. As Lyn deals with the charming but challenging Bridget, her client and friend, and interacts with the other people she encounters, we see the sort of person she is, from her deep love of writing to her innate kindness, backed by a quiet determination and integrity.
Other characters take shape as well; it’s less that they develop and grow through the course of the novel than that we come to know them more deeply. Everything we learn about the characters comes from their actions and speech as observed by Lyn; it’s subtly and skillfully done. None of the characters’ motivations are clear-cut, except perhaps Bridget’s, since she’s always very outspoken about what she wants (at least to Lyn.) Kearsley’s depiction of the various literary characters – Bridget, her writer-boyfriend James, and the playwright Graham – and of the London publishing world ring very true. So do the relationships between all these people, and the others who inhabit the pages, from sweet but possibly deluded Elen to the dependable, kindhearted farmer Owen and his bustling, no-nonsense wife Dilys. Kearsley even captures the rhythms of their Welsh speech so well that I could hear the lilt of it.
And then there’s the slow building of suspense, from the first vague inklings of something amiss to the climactic moments when the true danger is revealed. The danger in Named of the Dragon is less intense than in many of Stewart’s books, but Lyn’s dreams (which echo both the legendary and historical past and the present) and several inexplicable events contrive to create a growing sense of unease, of something amiss. Kearsley skillfully weaves in symbolism and leitmotif, in particular a baby or child: both real and dreamed, alive and dead, historical and present, and even implicit in the coming Christmas holiday. Intertwined with the child motif are legendary and historical figures: Owen Glyn Dwr, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), King Arthur, Merlin. Lyn isn’t literally “pulled into an ancient world” as the blurb implies, but that world seems to rise like a mist, underlying and permeating the world of the living. It gives the book a slightly magical or mystical feel without crossing the line into magical realism.
For me, the only thing that didn’t quite jell was the climax. Coming as the culmination of Lyn’s dreams and apprehensions, it should have worked, but it escalated too quickly, fueled in part by an impulsive act of Lyn’s that seemed… I don’t want to say out of character, because clearly her dreams were a factor in her decision, but out of character with her daylight self, perhaps. It threw me briefly out of the story and into analytic mode, but I let myself flow along with the story and was soon swept into it again.
I’ve labeled this novel “romantic suspense,” but the romance is subtle and largely under the surface – another similarity to some of Stewart’s books. For all my comparisons of Kearsley to Stewart, though, Named of the Dragon is in no way a knockoff or pale imitation of the latter’s books. Kearsley’s writing style, poetic and matter-of-fact by turns, is distinctly her own, as are her characters and story. I never once felt I was reading a faux Stewart novel, only one which would appeal to those who, like me, love Stewart’s work. It’s as though I’ve discovered a kindred spirit, and I can hardly wait to experience Susanna’s other books.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge
- COYER Scavenger Hunt - Summer 2015