Gwenvael the Handsome is known as the most gorgeous dragon in all of the Southlands, and he never has a shortage of females clamoring to share his bed. When Annwyl, his sister-in-law, receives a proposal for an alliance from The Reinholdt, the leader of the Northlands, she's unable to go in person due to being very pregnant, so she decides to send Gwenvael in her stead. He must go face down a creature known only as The Beast to broker an agreement between the two nations. But when he arrives at the gates of the Reinholdt castle only to discover that The Beast is naught but a young woman--and a very small one at that--he can't contain his mirth, which nearly causes an international incident. When Dagmar, the young lady in question, walks away and refuses to speak with him anymore, Gwenvael knows he must find a way to smooth things over so that Annwyl's faith in him isn't misplaced. He sets about trying to woo Dagmar in both a diplomatic and seductive way, and eventually discovers a passionate woman behind the boring dresses, prim spectacles, and stubborn demeanor.
Dagmar Reinholdt is the only daughter of The Reinholdt, the leader of the Northlands, but she is really the brains behind all her family's political and tactical successes. With her father's leadership being challenged by his erstwhile brother, who has far more troops, she knows she must do something to give him a better advantage. Her plan is to offer information she's gleaned from intelligence sources regarding Annwyl's enemies in exchange for the Southern queen providing them with soldiers to assist in their fight. When Gwenvael shows up in his dragon form as Annwyl's emissary and laughs in her face, Dagmar wants nothing more to do with him, but when he returns in his human form, trying to be nicer, she gradually begins to warm up to him. Together they go on a journey to find more information and eventually return to Annwyl's seat on Garbhan Isle, where Dagmar meets Gwenvael's large, boisterous family and begins to fall for the arrogant dragon. But when the threat to Annwyl and her babes arrives, along with an unexpected enemy, it will take all of Dagmar's wits to save the queen and her offspring.
What a Dragon Should Know is the third full-length novel in G. A. Aiken's Dragon Kin series according to the author's recommended reading order. Dagmar, AKA The Beast, is the only daughter of The Reinholdt, the leader of the Northlands. Her father's brother is mobilizing an army to try to take over, and as the real brains behind her family's successes, Dagmar feels that their only option is to try to solidify an alliance with Queen Annwyl of the Southlands. She plans to do this by sharing information she's gathered regarding someone who is out to harm Annwyl and her unborn babies. When Annwyl receives Dagmar's proposal, she's heavily pregnant and unable to go in person, so she sends her brother-in-law, Gwenvael, in her stead. The pretentious gold dragon nearly starts a war when he insults Dagmar by laughing when he finds out this petite woman is the fabled Beast. Determined not to allow Annwyl's faith in him to be misplaced, he returns in his human form and eventually persuades her to trust him. The two go on an expedition that leads them to a city where Dagmar hopes to gain more intelligence about the planned attack and later on to Gwenvael's home on Garbhan Isle, where Dagmar is accepted as a trusted member of the family. Along the way, Dagmar starts warming up to Gwenvael's flirtations and desire blossoms between them, but she is an independent woman who isn't sure she wants to shackle herself to an arrogant dragon. Also the threat to Annwyl eventually comes from an unexpected source, and Dagmar must use her wits to save Annwyl's babes before they fall prey to a ritual sacrifice.
Dagmar, nicknamed The Beast, is a highly intelligent woman who has devoted her life to learning, and she truly has more brains than basically her entire family put together. As such, she's a strong political tactician who knows when to broker alliances, as well as when and how best to fight, and is the silent force behind her family's hold on power. However, that power has been slipping as her uncle sets his sights on leadership of the clan, so Dagmar feels that their best option is to make an alliance with Annwyl in exchange for the information she has on those who would do the southern queen harm. When a great gold dragon shows up as Queen Annwyl's emissary and laughs in her face over her nickname, Dagmar simply walks away. When he returns in his human form, she still recognizes him and at first tries to ignore him, but eventually he starts to get under her skin and persuades her to trust him after all. They go on their journey together to collect more information and present it to Annwyl back on Garbhan Isle, where Dagmar surprisingly feels quite at home with Gwenvael's large, boisterous family. She also starts developing an attraction for the cocky, gold dragon himself. But when their enemies finally arrive, along with an unexpected antagonist, it will take all of Dagmar's mighty wits to outsmart them in time to save Annwyl and her babes. I love intelligent female characters, so Dagmar was the cat's meow for me. She basically steals the show, becoming the most prominent, well-developed character in the story, and even manages to outwit the gods. I also loved that she was the only one who could train her family's battle dogs, and that she had full control of them. My only small complaints would be that she didn't have any major internal obstacles to overcome and that she doesn't project much warmth, but otherwise, she was a wonderful heroine who I really liked.
Gwenvael the Handsome (as well as the Ruiner) knows how gorgeous he is with his knee-length blond hair and never lets anyone forget it. He's also a man-whore of the highest order, which is where he got his other nickname. No one really takes him seriously, so when Annwyl places her faith in him to broker the alliance with The Reinholdt, he's determined not to let her down. However, he messes up right out of the gate by laughing in The Beast's face. After regrouping, he knows he can't go back to Annwyl empty-handed, so he takes his human form and returns to the castle, where he sets about wooing Dagmar in both a diplomatic and seductive way. Eventually he earns her trust enough to take her to her intelligence source and on to his home on Garbhan Isle where she wows his entire family. Falling for her ability to manipulate people the same way he does, Gwenvael soon comes to the realization that he wants her for his mate, but she may see things differently.
I couldn't help feeling like Gwenvael was a very underdeveloped character. What I've outlined here is about as deep as it goes. He has no real backstory to speak of and no genuine weaknesses or obstacles to overcome so he doesn't really change or grow in any way. It just seemed like he was the quintessential golden boy both literally and metaphorically. I was also a little off-put by a couple of things, one being that IMHO there's a fine line between flirtation and sexual harassment, and in my view, Gwenvael crossed it a few times. The other is that he has a penchant for giving Dagmar orders in the bedroom (eg. take off your clothes), which admittedly made her hot and bothered, but did nothing for me. I prefer a romance hero who knows how to slowly seduce a woman and given Gwenvael's extensive sexual exploits, I expected better from him. Sometimes his fun-loving nature could be amusing so he wasn't all bad, but ultimately I came away feeling ambivalent toward him. He just didn't engender any strong feelings in me, either good or bad, and unfortunately if I can't fall for the hero of a romance, it tends to fall rather flat for me.
What a Dragon Should Know boasts dozens of supporting characters, many of whom have their own stories in the series and their own POV scenes in this book. Fearghus and Annwyl (Dragon Actually) are probably the most prominent. As they're awaiting the birth of their twins, Annwyl seems to be getting weaker as the days go by, leaving many worried for her health, while also concerned about the enemy who wants their babes. Briec and Talaith (About a Dragon) argue over how best to handle their daughter, Izzy's desire to be a soldier in Annwyl's army, especially when she shows the necessary skills to be good at it. Izzy (How to Drive a Dragon Crazy) continues her training, fights with her mother over going into battle, and tries to get Eibhear's attention, while he studiously tries to ignore his attraction to her. Queen Rhiannon and Bercelak (Chains & Flames) come to Fearghus and Annwyl's aid, as do many of Bercelak's kin, including his sister, Ghleanna (Dragon on Top), his brother Addolgar (A Tale of Two Dragons), his nephew, Celyn (Light My Fire), and his niece, Branwen (Bring the Heat). Gwenvael's sister, Keita, is captured by the Lightning Dragons and later helped by Ragnar, who is a long-time friend of Dagmar. These two become the hero and heroine of the next book, Last Dragon Standing. Then there's Gwenvael's other sister, Morfyd, and Brastias, the commander of Annwyl's army, whose story continues to play out as a secondary romance.
I'd enjoyed the previous books of this series quite well, so I fully expected to be able to say the same about What a Dragon Should Know. It started off well enough and I was enjoying it for a while, but the further I got into the story, the more it began to disappoint me in some ways. In addition to the issues I had with the characterizations, particularly Gwenvael's, I just didn't feel much of an emotional connection between him and Dagmar. I know that she's pretty cerebral and he's pretty arrogant, so emotions aren't their forte. However, the only points of connection I saw between them were their shared appreciation for political maneuvering and their shared enjoyment of voyeurism, which doesn't seem like a very strong foundation for a relationship. I know opposites attract sometimes, but Gwenvael and Dagmar just seemed too different to me. He says he loves smart women, but until now he hadn't really been with any that we're made aware of. She tells a few people that he's smarter than he seems, but if he is, we don't really see that. So their romance didn't make a lot of sense to me. Then there's the plot, which I felt was overly convoluted and lacking in focus. In addition to the main storyline of Dagmar and Annwyl creating an alliance between their two nations and who is out to get Annwyl's babies, there are numerous other subplots that I had a hard time keeping track of. The main story actually climaxed about a hundred pages from the end, leaving me wondering what was going to fill that space. As it turns out, it felt like a hundred-page epilogue that simply tied up all those loose ends of the other plot lines. I'm all for revisiting series characters and getting updates on what's going on in their lives, but often that can be accomplished with a few well-placed paragraphs. Here they get entire subplots and POV scenes, which IMHO, ended up making the book far too long and causing it to drag in places. Like with the earlier books, there were grammatical errors and rough wording that could be a little distracting, too. What a Dragon Should Know simply didn't draw me in the way the other books have so far, and with all my misgivings about it, it ended up just being an okay read for me.
Note: This book contains some explicit language and explicit sexual content, including voyeurism and a scene of light bondage, as well as a brutal and bloody battle sequence, which could be objectionable to sensitive readers.
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