It was just supposed to be a weekend snowboarding for best friends Justin and Declan, but a freakishly large wild animal tries to attack them as they zip along on their snowmobiles. Neither Justin nor Declan are in good shape; thankfully, there’s a tiny commune of off-the-grid men living nearby. The last thing Justin sees before he passes out from his injuries is a man named Samuel with the most stunning pair of…faceted ice-blue eyes.
Samuel may be the youngest dragon shifter among his small, mountain-dwelling clan, but he’s the first to recognize what’s right before his eyes: his mate. For one thing, being mates is the only explanation for how Justin could possibly have made it through the protective magic wards that keep Samuel and the others safe from being accidentally discovered. Not only that, but he feels a visceral attraction to Justin that grows deeper by the minute. Even better, Justin seems just as into Samuel—enough to start bringing Justin’s own inner dragon closer to the surface.
The only hurdle for Samuel claiming Justin as his mate is the fact that, to Justin, dragons and magic are nothing more than the stuff of fairy tales. The last thing Samuel wants is to scare Justin away with the truth. Over time, however, Justin starts to guess something is different about Samuel and his family just as Samuel tries to slowly reveal the truth. Of course, the fact that Justin and Samuel are starting to fall in love with each other helps ease some of the tension…that and the spectacular sex. But sex brings about another huge change for the dragons, for Samuel, and especially for Justin because Justin is the one who falls pregnant. The dragons are ecstatic about the prospect of a youngling, but Justin is floored he even has the capacity to carry a baby…dragon. Adding to the difficulties are the way the werewolves keep threatening to encroach on dragon territory, the fact that Declan is nowhere near as accepting of the whole dragon reality as Justin, and just how Justin and Declan can transition from their old lives to one living with real, live dragons.
Winter Dragon is the first book in Minerva Howe’s (the “kinky alter-ego” of Julia Talbot) Dragon Sanctuary series, which itself is part of her Dragon Veil universe. Our two MCs, Justin and Samuel, offer a saccharine sweet get-together relationship. For the most part, I enjoyed how Justin pretty much rolls with the punches. He accepts Samuel when he thinks his faceted eyes are some kind of genetic mutation. He goes along with Samuel’s references to dragons, though he first assumes they’re more metaphorical, but gradually accepts them as truth. It’s all a gentle build up to when Just is finally confronted with proof that he and his new lover truly are dragon shifters. Samuel, for his part, comes across largely as a doting and devoted lover. He’s talked about as an “alpha” and Justin as an “omega,” so if that dynamic is your jam, that trope is clear and present.
The only quibble I really had with Samuel was how he (fails to) handle revealing to Justin that Justin is pregnant. Which is to say, Samuel seems to take his own sweet time making sure he is comfortable with breaking the news, mulling it over with his dragon family, preparing mentally for the event…never mind telling Justin—his mate who is actually going to be the one squirting the kid out—that male dragons definitely have the capacity to get pregnant. Clearly, this was a big stumbling block for me in an otherwise lovey-dovey relationship where it seemed clear each partner would do anything for the sake of the other.
Questionable relationship to the idea of consent aside, I enjoyed how physical Justin and Samuel are. Howe delves into what I consider pretty intense fantasy and I think she flirts with the idea (if not the on-page reality) of shagging in shifted form. The sex mechanics for dragon sex were fully explored and showcased on page often, so rejoice if you enjoy that kind of erotica! Even these intense physical affirmations of Justin and Samuel’s relationship reflect how dopey they are for each other. The dialogue is also chock full of sex talk like “I want you so much. My mate.” And “You can do it, love. You were made for my knot.” And “Please! More. I want it all!” I thought this was a fun combination of very X-rated action and dorkily hot pillow talk.
The “dorky” also sort of extends to how best friends Justin and Delcan interact with each other. Without the throes of passion, though, I was less into their banter. Their dialogue felt terribly dated to me, lots of “right on, dude” vibes and the go-to insult is “butthead.” These two are supposed to be best friends, but Declan is unconscious for much of the first chunk of the book and far less accepting of the possibility of the paranormal when he’s finally lucid. That drives a big wedge into their friendship from my perspective. Add to it speech patterns that, for me at least, feel like the kind of language used with people you’re only casually acquainted with made this bromance kind of flat to me.
As far as the plot goes, it feels like Samuel and Justin’s relationship is the real driving force. As mentioned above, I enjoyed how they immediately feel something for one another and how their physical chemistry is off the charts. What made less sense to me was the world building outside the immediate facts of Samuel and his clan. There are werewolves, the concept of a veil, and Justin’s twin brother to name a few. Sure, a few unnamed werewolves appear in a scene or two, some characters mention that the dragons are on the wrong side of the veil, and Justin talks about how his brother is practically his right arm. But very little in the actual book explains how any of this is relevant. Maybe in future installments in the series, these elements will get clearer. Insofar as Winter Dragon is concerned, however, these elements felt pretty unrelated to the characters and the action.
Overall, I thought Winter Dragon was good but not spectacular. Now that I realize this is meant to be an introduction to a series, I feel like the elements that are meant to foreshadow future events (the werewolves, the veil, etc.) don’t meld well with what the main event in the book: Justin and Samuel getting together. However, as a get-together book, I think Howe delivers big on a fated lovers theme that is spicier and a bit more risque than most of the shifter stories I’ve read. If you love shifters, dragons, mpreg, and/or stories with extensive casts then I think you’ll find something to enjoy with Winter Dragon.