Soooo the book I'm about to mention is the worst book I've ever read for a few reasons (not the least of which, are the technical issues with the narrative and I've already written a veritable novel about the Herald Mage Trilogy).
Dragon's Winter by Elizabeth A. Lynn is the worst book I've ever read, and even when I was 14 and read it for the first time, I thought that. I'd just come off of reading a series that I'd really enjoyed (The Symphony of Ages) and was jonesing for dragons. I picked this thing up at my school library and got the rude awakening of "Even mediocre work gets published". However, this work had a negative impact on my life that, had I not experienced personally I wouldn't have believed.
WARNING: There are SPOILERS so, if you're going to read the book at any point, here's where you can get out of this wreck lol.
Now, I need to set the context here because there might actually be people reading this who weren't alive or were too young to remember this happening. When I was in high school, Proposition 8 was a thing in the news (as at this point in time, same-sex marriage was very embattled and homosexuality was simultaneously celebrated and maligned in ways that are different from now and, in many ways, more extreme) and up until that point in my life, I'd lived around people who had low opinions of homosexuality.
I was forced to endure a religion I never agreed with, albeit I found the people good enough, I just couldn't get on board with the belief system. However one of the major tenants of the religion and the people I knew, was that homosexuality was a sin and the people who were thus were fundamentally flawed. My opinions on such things were mixed, as I was young and didn't really have a grasp of the conflict at the time. I'd resolved never to have sex or get married, on the grounds that I didn't want kids, so I essentially exited from the dialogue for the most part.
Picking up this book, I hadn't realized that the main protagonist was a homosexual (or well, bisexual on the grounds that he needed heirs later) as it didn't say so on the book jacket (at the time I didn't have reliable internet at home so, I couldn't really look it up. Back then you just picked up a random book and if it didn't work out you returned it, lol) nor had I realized that this big 'epic' story was going to be so poorly constructed I'd be bashing my head for the next few hours. Okay, so with the scene set, let's move on to the book:
This is the dust jacket:
Born to the shape-shifting dragon king of Ippa, Karadur is destined to one day become a dragon and rule the kingdom. But in an act of jealous betrayal, his twin brother, Tenjiro, stole the talisman that would allow Karadur to take his true dragon form, and fled to a distant, icy realm. Now, years later, Tenjiro has reappeared as the evil sorcerer Ankoku. His frozen stronghold threatens to destroy Dragon Keep, and Karadur must lead his shape-shifting warriors on a journey to defeat his brother—and reclaim his destiny.
So you can see why 14 year old me might be interested. Shape-shifting dragon revenge story? Hell yes! Get me on board with that! I was writing a story about twin dragons at the time, so it was right up my alley. Long story short: Karadur's twin brother Tenjiro grows up in his volatile brother's shadow. It would be cool to know how they interacted with each other, except that Lynn skips over their childhood and so we get lip service about Tenjiro's jealousy. Anyway, the nature of the dragon makes Karadur volatile and without his talisman and being able to take his dragon shape, he becomes a right terrible person to be around and everyone is afraid of him (he even kills some of his own men in a rage. Bang up job guy). This was almost good world building, except Elizabeth seemed to want to use these moods of his, as an exercise in "How horrible can he be to the people in his life, and still be forgiven?" which IS a story telling crutch that I've seen bad authors use to promote this skewed idea of 'true love'.
"Oh, the dragon makes him this way, he can't help himself. Poor baby." except that in the next moment he'd be finding ways to marshal his duality, and unleashing it almost as if he knew they'd say "Oh it's not his fault." Now, if he'd been written this way on purpose this would've been good writing, he'd have to overcome this. But Elizabeth didn't write him this way on purpose. He never 'overcame' this problem, it persisted all the way through the book and he learned nothing. In fact it just became an exercise in how much the people who loved him would allow themselves to be abused before they threw their hands up.
We also have characters she introduced like Wolf who was a shape-shifter (five guesses as to what he turns into) and his story is almost a separate story altogether. Wolf comes to town, meets a woman, has a baby named Shem who annoyingly talks in the third person as though Lynn didn't know how babies talk, meets Karadur like, twice, and then boom, dead 140 pages in (or thereabouts). They were killed as a plot device so a certain moody someone would look good saving their orphaned son, and the whole point of their having any story at all was so that their son could be an orphan to make cry-dragon look good. Hawk and Bear might as well not even be around for all they contribute to the plot and that's it, Wolf's story is just that brief, we don't hardly get to know ANYTHING about him save surface details. A persisting theme throughout this book, seeing as how we know nothing about why the brother's hate each other other than, Karadur got the talisman. Everything is disjointed and nothing really flows together. Descriptions are very basic and leave a lot to be desired (particularly in the scenes where someone is shape-shifting. It mostly happens off screen so she doesn't have to describe it. This is lazy when you're writing a story ABOUT shape-shifters) and ultimately I couldn't 'feel' anything for anyone in the cast.
It's like we're starting a story in the middle. I remember thinking I'd accidentally picked up the second volume of a trilogy but nope, it was the first. She also had a random use of 'thee' and 'thou' and speech of that nature, but none of it was consistent (and by this point I'd read the bible and was well versed in Shakespeare so, the improper use of this kind of language really bumped me out of the book). Now, to bring this back in to the context I established earlier, enter Karadur's boyfriend: Court Musician, Azil.
Azil was LITERALLY my introduction to homosexual characters that were overt rather than coded and on the sly. I think one of their first scenes together is Karadur hopping into bed with him. Their relationship is hung up on Karadur's say-so. Granted, he IS a king and there is a very big power difference in the regards of social status, however, it's more a situation of "If I want it, I get it." In fact, Azil spends most of his time afraid of his lover to the point of walking on eggshells, which is more akin to an abusive relationship. Again, if this was written as Karadur's character flaw on purpose (and to some degree it was but, that didn't last) it would be something for him to overcome. Instead of actual character building in this regard and Karadur having to face what he's done and try to come to terms while getting his talisman back, Lynn pulls what was a stupid plot device even then: Azil gets captured by Tenjiro, tortured half into insanity, and is crippled such that he can't use his hands nor speak.
So far throughout their relationship, Karadur sort of used Azil only as a lover of convenience. Lynn wrote it like they were 'super in love gaiz' but that's not what actually happened. Karadur slept with someone he'd latched onto, only cared about Azil when his own feelings were concerned, and then when Azil is captured, he's only reclaimed because Karadur decided he couldn't let Tenjiro keep something that 'belonged' to him. (That's how it came across during all of her 'dragon possessiveness' nonsense.) I actually remember a scene after he rescues Azil (who at this point is mute and his hands have been crippled), where Karadur is shouting at him to speak, specifically to say his name, and Azil just can't. This isn't long after they got him back, yet Karadur seems to think it's alright that he's in this mans face, shouting at him to call him by name.
Again, 14 year old me was reading this and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I thought it was horrible, and yet Lynn in her narrative, tried to dress this up as somehow Karadur really loved Azil. Lynn tries to play this off as character development but it rang hollow even then. (You know a bad scene is bad when I'm 29 and can still remember being appalled at these things lol) All I could think was: "Dude, your boyfriend was beat the hell out of. He's drinking to forget, he can't sleep and he's having nightmares and you're yelling at him and interrogating him about your brother's forces. WTF is wrong with you?" (And yes, Karadur spends a long time just interrogating his boyfriend) They also bring up this note of 'betrayal' on Azil's part, being that I think (this is a little fuzzy for me) Azil left with Tenjiro (not knowing he was going to be tortured) and ater was an accidental spy/agent for Tenjiro after some magic was used on him during his time in captivity, that allows him to be taken over. Like I said, those parts are a bit fuzzy but I remember the betrayal angle.
Ultimately Karadur kills his brother, wins the prize, fights with some bandits and suddenly he's all into this girl who shows up within the last three pages or so and has sworn off men because "Ooohh betrayed by boyfriend I abused!". There's never really a satisfying resolution that happens between him and Azil, Karadur never really apologizes to Azil about the way he treated him during the time they were together, beyond some paper thin 'Whoops, my bad!' and nothing ever came of it. There was no real resolution other than he and Azil not getting back together because of the 'betrayal'. So ultimately Lynn wanted a gay character and then got rid of him as soon as she could.
This book was a disjointed mess all over the place and I felt like a child wrote it. Not to mention her use of adverbs REALLY got to me (as everyone on this site who has received any feedback from me knows I'm not a fan of adverb abuse). She overused adverbs to the point that I'd had to put her book down and read something else in order to feel better. This piece is an editors nightmare and I think whoever edited her books just short circuited and gave up. On the technical side of things most of her work is just an exercise in Passive Voice and lack of effort.
Now, to draw this whoooole long spiel back to the larger point I started in the beginning: This was my introduction to homosexual characters, during a time where same-sex marriage was embattled and most states didn't allow it (California's push for Prop 8 at the time being heavily in the news). The relationship was so abusive and dysfunctional my 14 year old self (who up until this point, had been told that homosexual people WERE dysfunctional and abusive) thought it was crazy that same-sex couples would do things like this to each other. Granted, I also recognized this as fantasy, but I had to reconcile that with "people write what they know" and her portrayal lined up with a lot of the bad things I'd been told all of my life so it seemed plausible to me at the time.
I remember taking the book back to my school library and never touching another with her name on it. I couldn't discuss the themes of the book at home and it wasn't until one of my friends actually revealed to me that they were gay, that I could ask someone about if the themes of the book were true. Granted I feel pretty stupid that I'd had to ASK that of someone when, clearly people are not like fantasy characters (and my dear friend was very understanding with my questions). Yet, my life experience up to that point told me no different, so this was a point in my life where a lot of my views changed, thanks to the good people in my life willing to be patient and answer questions I had.
This book left a bad impression on me that I've never forgotten. Just like the Herald Mage Trilogy, this is yet another book series I won't pick up again nor would I recommend unless you WANT to feel pain for the six hours it'd take to read this nightmare. Now, I'm pretty sure there are lots of people who liked these books and they're welcome to do so, but I personally could not recommend Elizabeth A. Lynn.