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Saturday, July 20, 2013


Author:  Lindsey Piper
Author's Other Identities:
    Carrie Lofty—her real name
    Ellen Connorin partnership with Ann Aguirre
    Katie Porterin partnership with Lorelie Brown
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)    
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor1 
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket
          "Silent Warrior" (prequel e-novella 5/2013)
          Caged Warrior (6/2013)
          Blood Warrior (7/2013)
          Hunted Warrior (4/2015) (FINAL) 

This post was revised and updated on 5/16/15 to include a review of Hunted Warrior, the third and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the prequel novella and the first two novels.

            NOVEL 3: Hunted Warrior            
     The final novel in the series tells the dramatic love story of two characters we met in earlier books, Malnefoley (Mal) of Tigony and the Pet. Mal is the Honorable Giva (aka the Usurper), leader of all of the Dragon King Clans, but he has been an ineffective leader because he is so arrogant and has kept himself far removed from the real issues facing the Dragon Kings. Mal has been so immersed in Council politics that he has allowed the human cartels to decimate the ranks of low-level Dragon Kings, who scramble to subject themselves to slavery and to life-and-death gladiator fights simply to win a chance to conceive a healthy child. 

     The Pet is a beautiful young Dragon King woman who was sold into slavery to the Aster cartel when she was twelve years old and lived as Dr. Heath Aster's personal slave for 25 years until she was liberated when Dr. Aster's laboratories were destroyed in book 1. The sociopathic Dr. Aster dressed the Pet in a black latex cat suit and paraded her around on a leash. The rest of the Asters' enslaved Dragon Kings hated the Pet because they thought that she assisted Dr. Aster in his gruesome experiments. After the destruction of the labs, the Council believed that the Pet knew Dr. Aster's secret for solving the Dragon Kings' fertility problem, so Mal imprisoned her in the Tigony stronghold in the mountains of Greece for interrogation until she somehow escaped. As the story opens, Mal tracks her down in the middle of an ancient labyrinth on the island of Crete with the intention of recapturing her.

     We know from the first page that Mal and the Pet will fall into the usual lust-to-love relationship both because this is a paranormal romance and because the Pet has foreseen this in a vision. But before they reach their obligatory HEA, get ready for a rip-roaring adventure that takes them on a dangerous trip from Crete to Italy to London for a climactic showdown that brings back all of the major characters from previous books (including the loathsome Hellix from book 1who finally gets his comeuppance) and resolves the outstanding issues. Early in the book, Mal decides that the Pet deserves a real name, so he names her Avyi. (You will have to read the book to find out what "Avyi" means in the Tigony language.)

     The love story is terrificfull of sharp personality contrasts, dark secrets and tragedies from the past, and enigmatic prophecies for the future. Mal is a cynical, jaded, pessimistic, haughty politician who hates himself for some horrific past deeds and who has lost his belief in the Great Dragonthe theological foundation of the Dragon Kings culture. Mal trusts no one and has lived his adult life suspecting every person he meets of being a potential trickster. He is definitely a cup-half-empty kind of guy who sees only chaos and bitter rivalry in the future of the Dragon King clans. At this point, he is so apathetic that he has done nothing to stop the human cartels from their gradual enslavement of the dwindling Dragon King population. Mal's gift from the Great Dragon is the ability to siphon off electrical energy from any source and absorb it into his body for various uses, particularly as a fiery weapon. 

     In direct contrast to Mal, Avyi always maintains hope and faith in a better future, even though her life of slavery has sometimes beaten down that hope. Avyi was gifted by the Great Dragon with second sight. She is a seera prophet who constantly visualizes future probabilities. Based on her prophecies, she believes in the power of the Dragon King clans to find their place in the world and to live in harmony. She follows her visions compulsively and insists that Mal follow along with her. As they travel, she lectures him on his arrogance and apathy and vows to prove to him that her prophesies for the future are true. Unfortunately, her visions include a fatal confrontation with the cartels that will claim the lives of many Dragon Kings. Will that come true, or is it just one of many probabilities? Piper spices up Mal and Avyi's blossoming relationship with frequent (and graphic) love scenes, beginning when they hardly know one another and ending with their inevitable vow of eternal love.

     The primary vision that drives Avyi centers on a young female Dragon King named Cadmin. Avyi foresees that Cadmin will be the one who saves the Dragon Kings from extinction in the midst of a huge battle. As the story opens, Avyi is searching in the labyrinth for an unknown artifact that she must find, recognize, and give to Cadmin, and she refuses to be deterred by Mal's insistence that he will be dragging her back to his prison in Greece. Mal views Avyi's search as a flimsy excuse to avoid imprisonment, but he soon becomes intrigued with both the woman and her visions. Even through he is skeptical and wary, he agrees to accompany Avyi on her search. All during their travels, he sneers at her opinions and belittles her hopes and visions every chance he gets, always goading her to prove herself and then denying that proof. 

     The ending of the book answers a number of questions raised throughout the series. Why did the Pet (Avyi) assist Silence in the Prequel novella, and why did Silence trust her? What is relevance of the riddle of the chasm that is frequently mentioned throughout the series ("the chasm can be fixed""the chasm is still broken")? Will that broken chasm ever be fixed? What is the true significance of the golden idol that appears in the prequel and assumes more importance in book 1? What is the solution to the infertility crisis suffered by the Dragon Kingsthe cure supposedly discovered by Dr. Aster? Is it possible for the Dragon Kings to overcome the Cartels without decimating their own population any further? Will the Clans ever stop fighting amongst themselves and come together as a unified race?

     Piper has outdone herself on this final chapter of the Dragon Kings story. The starring lovers are multi-faceted and interesting as they attempt to deal with the tragedies of their pasts and their contradictory views of the future. The plot twists and turns as they search for magical artifacts that will be instrumental in defeating the enemies of the Dragon Kings, including whoever is sending assassins after Mal all during their trip from Crete to London. We learn much more about the history and traditions of the Dragon Kings from the conversations between Mal and Avyi, from flashbacks to Mal's youth, and from Avyi's visions. Piper has crafted an elegantly calibrated conclusion to her series by weaving together elements that she introduced (but never fully explicated) in earlier books along with new revelations. Now, everything becomes clear, and it is obvious that Piper had this all planned out from the very beginning. This is a great finale, and I was enthralled from the very first page. 

     If you haven't read the first two DRAGON KINGS novels and the prequel novella, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. I definitely do NOT recommend this book as a stand-alone because it is meant to tie together the series story lines that have been building, book by book, from the very beginning of the series. (For example, you could never fully appreciate Silence's gut-wrenching battle with Hellix if you haven't read "Silent Warrior.") Do yourself a favor by starting with the prequel novella and then going on to the novels. This is a terrific seriesdark and dangerous, savage and seductiveand I highly recommend it. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

     Although the lead characters in this series are called Dragon Kings, they do not shift into Dragon form. From the author's web site, here is a description of the origins of the Dragon Kings: "Millennia ago, the Great Dragon was born high in the Himalayan Mountains, gave birth to its children, and dove back into the fiery Chasm of its birth. In the years since, those children coalesced into the Five Clans and spread across the globe, influencing, aiding, and shaping human civilizations. The Clans have their own representations of the Dragon's physical traits and conduct different means of worshipping their maker." Centuries ago, the Dragon Kings were a powerful force in the world, but over time they have weakened, beaten back by hostile humans and decimated by their own reproductive problems.    

     The Dragon Kings are divided into the Five Clans, each with its own particular talent. The clans tend to be reclusive and hostile to one another, with little cross-breeding. The suggestion in the first book is that the Clans would be better served by more cross-clan breeding because Dragons with mixed genetic heritages appear to be much stronger than purebred Dragons. Here are the Dragon King clans:   

    >Tigony: The Tricksters, who prefer politics and manipulation over violence: Their talent lies their ability to pull electrical current from the air, amplify it, and use it as a devastating weapon.  

    >Sath: The Thieves, also called Keepers of Secrets: They gather and guard information about the history of the Dragon Kings, and they can temporarily steal powers from other Dragon Kings. They originated in Egypt. 

    >Garnis: The Lost Clan, a small Clan with just a few scattered members, and their talents include speed, stealth, and amped-up reflexes.  

    >Pendray: The Reapers or Berserkers, a Clan nearly as small as Garnia. They live in the mountains of Great Britain and Scandinavia and are always on the edge of frenzied violence.

    >Indranan: The Heartless, who are telepaths who can enter a person's or dragon's mind and delete and/or change memories. The Indranan are divided into Northern and Southern factions and have been engaged in a bloody civil war for three thousand years. (That war is the primary focus of book 2.) They are generally born as twins, with the stronger sibling usually killing the weaker one in order to absorb the weak one's powers.

     The Clans are ruled by the Council of the Five Clans, which has managed to maintain an uneasy peace among the Dragon Kings for thousands of years. The Council is made up of two Senators from each clan and is headed by the Honorable Giva. As the series opens, the Giva is Malnefoley, a Tigony who is a cousin of the heroine of book 1. Each pair of Senators includes one woman and one man. In a chauvinistic touch, women are "referred to as Wisdom for their sagacity and maternal patience, while the impetuous men were dubbed Youth for their spirit and eagerness to go to war." (p. 55)

     In this alternate world, there are three crime cartels. The Aster family cartel is the most powerful because it has discovered the most reliable means of Dragon King conception. The other two cartels are the Townsends of London and the Kawashimas of Hong Kong. The cartels make money from Cage matches—gladiator fights between highly trained Dragon Kings. Some Cage fighters are born into this world; others are enslaved for nonpayment of debts. Many are hard-core criminals who choose to enslave themselves to the cartels to avoid imprisonment or execution in the real world. Most fighters choose to participate in the hope that they will win a chance to conceive a child. The Dragon fighters are forced to wear power-damping collars unless they are in the ring. They live in underground cages under Medieval conditions, never seeing daylight. Dr. Heath Aster, son of Old Man Aster (leader of the Aster cartel), is a sociopath who revels in torturing captured Dragon Kings in his laboratory—performing gruesome surgeries on them by carving them up, breaking their limbs, and worse.  

     Added to the mix is a group of Dragon Kings who have separated from their Clans and are operating as an underground network of rebels. This group refuses to align with any Clan and has its own agenda. In book 1, they are instrumental in resolving the conflict.

    This is a pitiless, dark world, and the enslaved Dragon Kings have little hope of ever leaving it—except through death. In an interview, the author describes it as "violent and earthy." Although this is a paranormal romance series, don't expect much sweetness in the stories. Even the love stories are dark and oppressive. For an in-depth look at the series mythology, click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site entitled "The World of the Dragon Kings."      

     This series is profiled in the August 2013 issue of RT Book Reviews. Click HERE to read the article, which is displayed on the author's blog. Click HERE to read an RT Book Reviews interview with the author about her multiple identities.

                    PREQUEL E-NOVELLA: "Silent Warrior"                    
     This novella sketches in the framework of the world-building as it tells the love story of Hark and Silence (aka Orla), both of Clan Sath. The two meet as opponents in a fight staged in a bar in Hong Kong. Silence is a collared Dragon King who has been sent by the Aster Cartel to Hong Kong to track down and capture an Indranan Dragon King, and Hark is a free Dragon King who is fighting to earn money to pay off his debts. When a Pendray Dragon King attempts to take their winnings from them, they team up to defeat him, thus beginning their inevitable fall into lust, love, and mating.

     The love story is the focus of the plot, but the author also scatters some explanatory information about the series mythology that will be helpful to the reader of the introductory novel. Chief among these bits of information is an explanation of the story behind the dragon-shaped idol that becomes a key plot element in Caged Warrior. We also learn Hark and Silence's backstories, which explain their eccentric personality traitsHark's incessant snarky chatter and Silence's muteness. Here, Hark muses about their differences: "Basically, despite the fact they'd been born to the same clan, they were entirely opposite. Manic to quiet. Blue eyes to black." One last connection to the plot of Caged Warrior is Silence's message from the Soothsayer that tells her that she has to wait for the living gold before the chasm can be fixed. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

                    BOOK 1:  Caged Warrior                     
     The very first scene plops the reader down in one of the Asters' subterranean cages, where a bound woman has just been dragged in and dumped naked on the filthy floor. That woman's human name is Audrey MacLaren, but her Dragon King name is Nynn of Clan Tigony. She was living as a human in New York City when the Asters' thugs invaded her home, murdered her human husband, and kidnapped her and her son, Jack. Jack and Audrey were first placed in Dr. Heath Aster's infamous laboratory, where both underwent a series of horrific experiments and where Audrey was repeatedly assaulted sexually by the guards. Eventually, her rage built to the point that she released her explosive Dragon King powers and blew up the laboratory, after which she was sent to the Cages. She has no memory of that event, and as the story opens, she believes that she has no Dragon powers. In the story, Audrey is called by her human name during the first part of the book, but after she accepts her Dragon heritage, she is called Nynn.

     Nynn's trainer is Leto of the Garnis, who has spent his entire life in the Asters' cages. Leto is the Asters' star gladiator, having won all of his fights. Old Man Aster tells Leto that if he trains Nynn well enough that she lives through three fights, he will provide medical care for Leto's sister, who has been comatose for decades. Leto knows no other life than the cages, and he is treated like a trusty, with privileges that others do not have. As the book begins, Leto is loyal to the Asters and believes all of their promises. He is determined to whip his new neophyte (or as he calls her, "lab filth") into shape, and he's not going to be gentle about it.

     The story follows Nynn and Leto through the training process, as they get to know one another and share their life stories. The plot has a number of twists and turns as the Asters keep a tight control on their Dragon King slaves, constantly coming up with new tortures. This is a very dark and intense story, with a supporting cast of cold-hearted guards and hardhearted Dragon King gladiators. 

     Because this is first and foremost a paranormal romance series, we know from the beginning that Nynn and Leto will fall for one another, and eventually they do, although there are some brutal scenes between them before that happens. Leto's training methods are harsh, and at first he despises Nynn because she has renounced her Dragon King heritage. As the plot advances, Nynn must deal with the horrors of her childhood, which have been repressed up until now, and Leto must accept the fact that the Asters are not the honorable men he always thought they were. 

     Early in the book, there is a scene in which the Council of the Five Clans meets to discuss Nynn's situation. Just before she blew up the lab, she was able to help one of the Dragon Kings escape with a note to Malnefoley explaining her situation and begging for help. In this scene, the Council is considering whether to help her. That's the last we see of the Council as a whole, but keep that scene in mind because it does have a connection with a climactic scene at the end of the book.

     So far, this looks like it will be a solid series. The plot of this first book is filled with compelling, page-turning (and stomach-churningly violent) action, but it also has a few tender moments and several hot love scenes. If you are searching for something different from the usual cookie-cutter paranormal romances, with their lonely heroes, sassy heroines, and overload of sardonic dialogue, you'll probably enjoy this fresh and inventive series. Click HERE to and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt read the first five pages of Cage Warrior.

                    NOVEL 2: Blood Warrior                    
     The hero of the second novel is Tallis of Pendray (aka the Heretic), who is the outcast uncle of Nynn, heroine of book 1. Twenty years ago, Tallis began having sensuous vision dreams in which the Sun spoke to him, telling him that she had chosen him to make the world a better place for the Dragon Kings. The Sun taunts Tallis with promises of sexual favors as she orders him to murder (i.e., behead) a long string of Dragon Kings, all of whom were, supposedly, guilty of horrible sins. He was forced to turn his back on his family and has lived as a pariah ever since. Then, (in the first novel), the Sun lies to Tallis, asking him to put Nynn and her son into a situation that eventually separates them and threatens their lives. For the past few months, Tallis has been searching for the Sun in real lifein the daytime, not in dreams—so that he can take his revenge. Tallis has convinced himself that he has found his dream goddess in the form of Kavya of Indranan, a Dragon King who has formed a cult-like following based on her promise that she can reunite the Indranan. It helps Tallils' cause that Kavya's followers call her "the Sun."

     Just as Kavya calls together a meeting of the two opposing groups of Indranan, Tallis finds her and imprisons her in his tent, accusing her of being his long-time tormentor. Of course, Kavya doesn't know what he's talking about, but that matters not at all to Tallis. As Tallis harasses Kavya, her brother, Pashkah, shows up with his warriors and attacks the gathering, murdering the men and carrying off the women. Tallis, Kavya, and her bodyguard manage to escape just in the nick of time, but now Pashkah has a mental fix on Kavya and will be able to find her anywhere.

     To review the Indranan mythology: This Dragon King clan is called the Heartless because they can easily slip into the minds of others, reading their thoughts and memories and using excruciating psychic pain as a weapon. Indranan women always give birth to twins or triplets. When the children come into their psychic powers at adolescence, one sibling invariably kills the other(s) and absorbs their powers. Many families separate their children early in life, sending them long distances away, so that they won't be able to find one another. Pashkah has already killed one sister, and now he's after the other. With the absorption of Kavya's powers, Pashkah will become even more demented than he already is. His goal is to round up every set of Indranan siblings and force them into death fights. Then he plans to use the survivors as a powerful psychic army to take control of all of the clans of the Dragon Kings.

     The story follows Tallis and Kavya as they go on the run. Tallis soon realizes that Kavya isn't the Sun of his dreams, and they begin their lust/love relationship as they try to escape. Eventually, the requisite show-down scene arrives to provide resolution to the Pashkah problem and to the love affair.

     Compared to novel 1, this one has a much simpler, less violent plot: run away from the bad guy and fall in love along the way. The complexity comes in the two lead characters, each of whom has suffered horrific tragedies but has managed to survive with mind intact (although sometimes I'm not so sure about Tallis, especially in the early chapters). Tallis "is a Pendray. He harbored a nasty beast down deep where most men stored ugly things. Fantasies about inflicting pain. Fantasies about rape and murder and theft and running away, because cowardice was just as ugly, just as worth of concealing. Those uncivil fantasies glimmered like a distant miragemoments where the mind took a backseat to very old instinct." (p. 216) He must constantly fight to keep his Berserker side under control, but is not always successful. Meanwhile, Kavya must live with the fact that her brother wants to kill her and that the birth of her and her siblings caused their mother to go mad because of her fear that they would kill one another (which they did). So...lots of angst-filled interior monologues.

     This book provides in-depth coverage of the eccentricities of the Indranan and Pendray clans, just as the novella spotlighted the Sath, and book 1 focused on the Tigony and the Garnis. If you enjoy paranormal romance, this is a solid series with an inventive mythology and well-drawn characters. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

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