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Searching for her missing brother, Grace Carlyle never dreamed she would discover a secret world populated by mythological monsters—or find herself facing a sword-wielding being whose looks put mortal men to shame.

But there he was, Darius en Kragin, one of a race of shape-shifting warriors bound to guard the gates of Atlantis, and kill all travelers who strayed within its borders. Now Grace’s life was in his hands, and Darius had to choose between his centuries-old vow and the woman who had slipped beneath his defenses and stolen the heart of Atlantis’s fiercest dragon.

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Heart of the Dragon, not to be confused with the Jackie Chan movie of the same name (but go check that out, too. It has a respectable three out of five stars over on IMDb), is the first book in Gena Showalter’s Atlantis series. I decided to give it a read as she mentioned on her Facebook page that it was on sale on Amazon. Interestingly enough, she admitted to the fact that her writing style has changed a lot in the twelve years since its publication and I was eager to see what exactly she’d meant by that statement. I’m a massive fan of her Lords of the Underworld series, a series that is overflowing with a vast array of complex, likable and, oddly enough, relatable characters, and was keen to see how she’s grown as a writer over the years.

Evidently, Gena has been a gifted writer from the outset. The way in which she describes Atlantis, the underwater city which Darius protects, is simply breathtaking. As cliched as it might sound, I felt like I was there myself, seeing the jewel-encrusted walls of his palace and the city bustling with dragons, nymphs and vampires with my very own eyes…

…however (that dreaded word) what I found to be severely lacking in Heart of the Dragon was character depth. Grace I can somewhat relate to – a chocolate eclair fanatic who hates exercise and loves reading cheesy romance novels – but Darius comes across as superficial and two dimensional. His dialogue seems stilted and unnatural (although I think this is an attempt to make him sound archaic) and he seems to flit between trying to convince himself to kill Grace and playing tonsil tennis with her. Towards the end of the novel, there’s a scene where he’s pacing up and down the corridor outside her apartment trying to sum up the guts to end her…he then reenters her apartment five minutes later and makes her his wife. I was like…

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His personality seems to be all over the place and, consequently, I felt I couldn’t get to know him as a character or bring myself to care about what happened to him.

Additionally, I felt the ending was somewhat rushed. I read Heart of the Dragon on my Kindle and was alarmed to see I’d hit the 90% mark without anything being resolved. As if sensing a reader’s concern, Grace and Darius rush back to Atlantis around 92/93% and everything happens over the course of the next few pages; Grace trains Darius’ men in the art of shooting and gifts them all with Kevlar vests, Darius locks Grace in his bedroom for ‘protection’ (while being fully aware that his enemies are in possession of medallions that open all the doors in his palace), lo and behold, Grace gets kidnapped, there’s an epic battle, Grace gets rescued, the vamp king decides to let Darius go this time because, he reveals rather cryptically, he too once loved someone and takes pity on Darius, Grace’s brother is found and he then gets hitched to a woman whose husband died but a couple of weeks previous…

Phew. I was exhausted just reading those scenes. If all that was happening in real time, I swear it all would have happened over the course of ten minutes. I hope those dragons drank a shit ton of energy drinks before that chapter.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Song: The Clash’s Should I stay or should I go (Darius’ rendition would be entitled Should I kiss or should I kill)

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This book is available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback format.

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