Sword of the King by Megan Derr, the fifth book in the Dance with the Devil series, is an amazingly well crafted, in-depth creation of an alternate world that quite frankly I would love to visit! However, this novel was jammed full of characters and introductory material so I am going to structure this review a little differently from my others.
First, please don’t be put off by the enormity and expansive nature of the book—it is SO worth the read! Let’s begin as one might when reading a play—with a cast list of characters.
Dragons: Before I introduce these lovely creations to you, you need to know a few facts. Dragons, for the most part, start as humans and can switch between human and dragon form at will. They, unfortunately, are normally kidnapped as younger men and force-fed a drug—the “changer” drug that brings their dragon side to the fore and allows it to genetically dominate the human side. They are then forced to fight in “pits” where they either dominate or die as the case may be. There are several different types of dragons, each with unique gifts that allow them to be successful in the fighting pit. Let’s meet some of these amazing creatures.
Cam: The Holy Pendragon—all others bow before him and rightfully so as he is a killing machine, capable of defeating any other dragon. He is so rare that only three others like him exist in this phenomenal world where Masters or “Owners” are linked both emotionally and sexually to their dragons. Amr owns him—more on him in a moment.
Erie: A Fire Dragon who heats up the life of his owner, Blaze. He is unique due to the fact that he was an “egg dragon” and never required the drug or “changer” in order for him to change form. Together they are an unbeatable team in the “Pits” where they battle other dragons in money-related matches. Unfortunately, their love for each other must remain hidden or they will suffer the wrath of the man who holds them under his thumb, Rust, a syndicate boss who controls one of the many fighting pits in the city. Blaze is determined one day to escape the pits with Erie and live a normal life together.
Nev (Nevada): A Steel Dragon, and best friend of Ken, and who has made it his mission to close down the fighting pits and see the dragons freed. Ken and Nev were childhood friends when the two of them wee kidnapped and, at the age of 14, forced to fight in the pits as dragon and master. They survived due to Nev’s amazing strength, but the year in the pits left both of them scarred and, thankfully, in love. They were rescued by a member of one of the clans, groups of knights that are steeped in tradition and myth. Ken was “adopted” into the clan but never fully accepted, leaving he and Nev with no real place to call home and Ken with a raging insecurity and pain over never being wanted or loved by anyone other than Nev.
Con (Conway): An Ice Dragon and not yet fully mated to an owner. He is controlled by the evil Leo, a syndicate boss. But Con’s heart belongs to Rafael, Leo’s brother, who has an amazing talent for working with the dragons. Often physically abused by his brother (whom I really loathed), Rafael is very much in love with Con but has kept it hidden as he knows that if Leo found out Raf would be forced to watch as Con was tortured to death. Yes Leo is that evil—truly the best “bad guy” I have ever seen written in a novel. These two, Con and Raf, do a delicate dance—loving yet hiding, never fully able to give in to their affections for one another, hiding their love from the world…hmmm, I think the clever Ms. Derr has used these characters to reflect with real clarity the plight of many gay couples and the very sad reality of hiding their relationship from the world. Well done Ms. Derr, this couple was heartbreaking and made me want to stand up on behalf of their rights.
Raf and Con are entrusted with the care of Cam who, when our story begin,s has been kidnapped and is being force fed changer drugs to no avail. He is unable to shift to his dragon form, for you see it is later revealed that a pendragon will only change when they finally find their owner. And that brings us to the masters or owners in this novel.
Owners or masters: These are men who are uniquely gifted to be mated to a dragon for life. Some are called knights, others simply men. Then there is that one strange creature that often is unable to mate with a dragon but who trains others how to be a master. Amr is just such a man. He is of the Mordred clan, a clan that was exiled long ago by the rest of the clansman because they exposed the dragons to the world rather than keep them hidden. Amr is also a powerful magician and he was responsible for training Blaze as to the art of both being a master and training his dragon how to fight in the pits.
These owners, Amr, Rafael, Ken, and Blaze all converge at Rafael’s home to discuss one issue—the safety of the pendragon and their own freedom from the syndicates that own half of them. The story really heats up here—not that it was doing so shabby in the action area prior to this point. But it is here where new relationships are drawn and we are made aware that dragons do not care if their master also mate with another master, creating a foursome of sexually active and loving men and their dragons.
So let’s talk sex. For those of you who have been reading this Dance with the Devil series, you are well aware that sex plays a secondary role to the storyline in those books. Not so with this one. In fact, where most of the books in this series take chapters to reveal a sexual encounter, Sword of the King smacks us in the face with it right away and oh my, never has a slap in the face been so good!! The intimacy between the dragons and their masters is not only hot but very physical with lots of “marking” –-physical bites, nips, scratches, all done in a remarkably sensual way by the deft hand of the author.
I could go on and on with plot points but suffice it to say that this is a taut, action-packed novel that had me mesmerized from start to finish! Stunning—Sword of the King is a stunning novel. It can be read independently of the others in the series—I highly recommend this gem to you! It IS a 5 star read!