Shifters are few and far between, but as a dragon, Coy Conklin is probably the most powerful of them. Arrogant and brash, but loyal to his friends and family, he works as a fire dancer in a local circus and lives with his grandmother and adopted brother. The routine inspections enforced upon him by the Registry are only just bearable and a black mark on his otherwise simple life.
Augustus Seaton is new to the Registry office and he intends to follow the rulebook, even when it conflicts with his conscious. When a new law requires the arrest and imprisonment of all shifters, even children, Augustus finds himself struggling to accept the Registry’s increasing levels of brutality and violence against shifters. The Registry claims to have a prison that can hold any shifter, but Coy is determined to escape and if that means dragging Augustus along with him, then so be it.
Wow. King of the Fire Dancers has a taut and well developed plot, a whirlwind escape, and two characters that take the definition of dark to a new level. Almost from the start, I was captivated by the story and while there were some mild pacing issues at first, the writing was strong enough to hold my interest. The author does an excellent job of creating and maintaining a palpable tension that keeps you guessing and waiting for the next event. This books starts out as one thing, but quickly morphs into another and then another. Normally that kind of thing frustrates me, but Sterlings does a wonderful job of juggling every aspect of the story and giving it the flexibility and support to evolve naturally.
Coy and August are not exactly easy to like. Both have their redeeming characteristics, but they are so far past perfect it’s easy to wonder why we should care about them sometimes. Coy is naturally powerful, sensual, and arrogant. He follows the rules set forth by the Registry not because he wants to, but because he has no choice. He is deeply devoted to his family and friends, but has no such empathy or compassion for his fellow shifters. His arrogance seems to stem from knowing that as a dragon he’s nearly untouchable and, as a result, he’s not as cautious or perhaps as pragmatic as he should be. August is even more conflicted and difficult to untangle. Despite being a Registry officer, he seems to have a measure of sympathy towards shifters. Yet he never intervenes on their behalf and stands by on more than one occasion when a shifter is murdered. We’re told that his childhood was beyond horrific and as a result he is poorly socialized, desperate for affection, and somewhat handicapped by his emotions. When we discover the truth of an even darker aspect of his past, it becomes extremely difficult to have any sympathy for him at all. He tends to come of as somewhat pathetic and weak. Yet there is something about August, as there is about Coy, that draws readers in even if they don’t want to be. The journey they share both physically and mentally forces each man to confront the worst part of themselves.
King of the Fire Dancers is the first in a new series and given the way the book ended, it makes sense to believe the next book will continue August and Coy’s story. Aside from a pacing issue at the start of the book, King of the Fire Dancers was a excellently wound storyline that changed directions more than once and left me racing to read further. Consider this one highly recommended.