Reviewed by Seregil of Rhiminee
September 21, 2019
“. . . a highly enjoyable fantasy novel with plenty of creativity and a pleasing amount of originality. I can guarantee that Paulette’s adventures will stay with you and you’ll find yourself craving for more, because the story is immersive. If you enjoy reading fantasy adventures, this novel will offer you thrilling escapism and enjoyment.”
Bruce Woods’ Dragon Blood is the second novel in the Hearts of Darkness Trilogy, which tells of the adventures of the undead adventuress Paulette Monot. In Royal Blood, the author introduced this extraordinary woman to his readers and now he continues to write more about her life and her extraordinary adventures.
Dragon Blood is an excellent sequel to Royal Blood. Everybody who has read the first novel will feel immediately at home with the story. This novel is every bit as good as the previous novel, because the author has done his best to write an enjoyable and fast-paced story that will appeal to fantasy readers who enjoy dark and entertaining stories. The only difference between these novels is that this novel has a bit more depth, because the author broadens the scope of the story.
Just like Royal Blood, Dragon Blood is a thoroughly enjoyable combination of elements ranging from adventure and steampunk to history and supernatural lore. The author also offers his readers an intriguing and surprisingly insightful glimpse at Chinese culture and customs.
In case there are readers out there who are wondering if this novel can be read as a standalone novel, I can mention that it’s possible to do so. You don’t necessarily have to know anything about the previous novel to enjoy this novel, but you may get more out the story and its nuances if you’re familiar with the previous happenings.
The story begins with Paulette responding to the summons of Lady Ellen Terry, who is the vampire Mistress of the City of London. She is now more experienced than before as she has learned the way of the world. Because her last assignment was successful, she is asked to take an errand that will take her to China. Lady Terry wishes Paulette to investigate young virgin women who call themselves “Red Lanterns” for any signs of Kin activity. Paulette is also asked to do what she can to assure that the extermination of foreigners fails and the Dowager Empress Cixi remains in power. Before her journey, Paulette has a lot to learn, because she is to pose as a local in China… On her way to China, Paulette meets Li-hua, who guides her and offers her advice. When Paulette arrives in China, she notices that danger will be a constant companion to her and there’s a possibility that she may not survive…
I won’t reveal more about the story, but I can mention that it is filled with adventure and excitement. Paulette’s journey through China and her adventures among the Red Lanterns are well-realised. What Paulette experiences in China is entertaining and offers quite a lot of food for thoughts.
The characterisation is excellent, because the author paints a vivid picture of Paulette Monot. Paulette is a fascinatingly complex and multifaceted character. She is a vampire, but she is also a sensual woman who has needs of her own. When needed, she can be a coldblooded killer and will satisfy her hunger for blood in a ruthless way, but she also has a tender and erotic side to her. She’s a liberated woman who works for the good of the world and does her best to carry out her assignments.
I enjoyed reading about what Paulette had to do in order to look like a Chinese woman and become “Jinyu Liu”. Her tranformation is well-described and fascinating, because she has to endure quite a lot to look different. Her new looks give her the advantage of travelling unnoticed.
I also enjoyed reading about what happens between Paulette and Li-hua. Their relationship is interesting and sensual.
The supernatural and mythological elements are handled well. Without revealing any details about the story, I can mention that Paulette’s encounters with the powerful fire spirit Huo and China’s ancient guardian, Watatsumi, are simply thrilling and have a feel of awe and wonder to them.
The sex scenes fit the story, because they are bold and erotic. The author’s explicit way of writing about sex and eroticism feels fresh, because he doesn’t shy away from sexual elements.
I find the worldbuilding impressive, because the author pays attention to historical elements and writes effortlessly about the Victorian era and Chinese culture (the author combines fiction and history in a fresh way). The author’s descriptions about Chinese way of life and the various places feel realistic. He fluently tells of how the great nation is in turmoil and what happens to people, because the atmosphere is volatile and trouble seems to brew everywhere. His vision of “the Boxers” – men who try to rid their land of foreigners – is exciting and violent, because he dares to explore dark themes.
I like the author’s writing style, because his way of telling about the happenings has a fascinatingly light feel to it. He seems to have a talent for gripping storytelling, because the story is compelling and sufficiently fast-paced with exciting details that mesmerise the reader and enhance the reading experience. The story flows effortlessly and gathers momentum towards the ending, which is worth waiting for.
What I find perhaps most refreshing about this novel is that it’s wholly different from other vampire fantasy novels. Although the story stays true to the genre’s roots, it’s satistyingly original, because the author has courage to venture outside the genre’s normal conventions. This makes a big difference to the reader, because there are countless vampire novels that are pale clones of each other without any kind of creativity or originality (to be honest, I find most modern vampire fantasy novels more or less annoying and boring due to their focus on paranormal romance). It was wonderful to read this novel, because it has a good story and the author focuses on all the right things.
I believe that Dragon Blood will strike a chord among readers who are familiar with classic adventure stories and enjoy well-created vampire stories. It will also appeal to readers who love classic mystery stories and spy fiction, because Paulette has an errand to do and she has to disguise herself and travel to a new and strange country.
Bruce Woods’ Dragon Blood is a highly enjoyable fantasy novel with plenty of creativity and a pleasing amount of originality. I can guarantee that Paulette’s adventures will stay with you and you’ll find yourself craving for more, because the story is immersive. If you enjoy reading fantasy adventures, this novel will offer you thrilling escapism and enjoyment.