dragon's duskRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Years ago, Kostya’s bonded dragon, Kirian, accidentally blinded his cousin and her dragon. Kostya has never been able to forgive himself for not being able to prevent the mistake and, ever since that day, people have treated Kirian like a monster, not like the cherished bonded soul animal that he is. It makes Kostya so sad to see Kirian is kept locked away, so much so that he has considered fleeing the kingdom with his dragon. The two have such an intense connection, able to share each other’s feelings and emotions, that Kostya would do almost anything for Kirian. But if he leaves the kingdom, that means also leaving his brother and sister, as well as his cousin the king, who is unwell.

Kirian feels terrible for the accident of his youth. He has grown into a big strong dragon, not the scared runt he once was, but that doesn’t change how people feel about him. Kirian loves Kostya and feels horrible for how his mistake has impacted the man he cares so much about. When Kirian wakes up one day as a man instead of a dragon, he can’t believe it. While it is strange, Kirian is also thrilled at the idea that he can now be with Kostya as a man. But to Kirian’s dismay, Kostya doesn’t recognize him as his beloved former dragon. Even worse, Kostya is distraught as he thinks his dragon has disappeared from the stables.

The men become friends, even as Kirian is not able to share with Kostya who he really is. Eventually, the truth comes out and it seems like the men will be able to take the close bond they once had as dragon and rider and turn it into a relationship between men. But trouble is brewing in the land, the king is losing his hold on his sanity, and someone is looking to seize the opportunity. Kirian and Kostya have just found one another again, but now they must make it through the chaos for a chance to be together.

Dragon’s Dusk is the second book in Sam Burns and W.M. Fawkes’ To Kill a King trilogy. While this story features a new couple in Kostya and Kirian, the series plot connects across books and this one will be better read after Dragon’s Dawn. I am finding this series to have some interesting world building and engaging characters. I like the way that the overarching conflict with the king, the cousins, and the fate of the country are carrying across the books, while we get individual stories for different characters. This book is lighter on the politics side than the first book, and the trouble brewing really only comes into play toward the very end. I wished it was a bigger part of the plot, as this story really only focuses on Kirian and Kostya. Also, the reveal at the end sort of comes with little lead up in the story (though I anticipated who was behind it), and then no real follow up to this big news, though I expect that will come in book three. I also really like the idea of the soul animals and think the authors use that to nice effect here in showcasing how the bond Kirian and Kostya formed as dragon and rider transcends Kostya’s form and carries over to when he becomes human. We do get a bit more information here about how these bonds are created, though again I wished for more about these bonds. For example, how are the animals chosen for the attempted bond? We know people need to be strong to bond with strong animals, but this process happens in infancy. How does anyone know what animal to even try with a particular child? I would love to see this explored more, as this is such an interesting part of the world building.

Unfortunately, while I liked both Kostya and Kirian, I struggled with this couple on the romance end. When I read the blurb, I was really intrigued with the idea of Kirian being changed from dragon to human form, but it didn’t really work for me in practice for a few of reasons. First, while I can accept dragons are supposed to be particularly smart animals, I found it hard to believe that Kirian has this unbelievable depth of understanding about the world, to the point of being able to think in metaphors and grasp complicated concepts. Just as an example, from Kirian’s POV:

The King of Voronezh seemed determined to snuff all that out. We hadn’t even seen him, and his presence still hung over us like a toxic miasma. That sense of foreboding almost made leaving the palace a pleasure, just to get a breath of fresh air somewhere that wasn’t poised right on the edge of disaster.

He also seems to know about things he has never experienced or encountered as a dragon. He recognizes objects or knows words he wouldn’t have heard, or knows how to do things he shouldn’t know (for example, what to do with a human in bed). I guess I could accept it if we see him learn all this stuff, but not that he somehow already knows it. I mean, maybe just “magic” and I have to go with it? But it isn’t presented like he was magicked into all this new knowledge and complex awareness, but rather that dragons are just super smart. Also, for all he mostly seems worldly beyond what I would expect for a being that has lived life almost completely solitary and as a dragon, there are other times he seems incredibly childlike and if he can’t understand or convey things properly. So there wasn’t total consistency here in how this is approached.

I also had trouble with the fact that Kirian’s entire personality seems to be “adores Kostya.” The only thing Kirian cares about is Kostya’s happiness. The only thing he wants is whatever Kostya wants. Kostya can absolutely do no wrong and is perfect in every way. Early on, Kirian will barely even physically stop touching him or staring at him adoringly. Kirian just never felt like he had a character of his own; everything about him just seems completely and totally focused on being exactly what Kostya wants him to be or doing what Kostya wants him to do. That’s not to say Kostya doesn’t care about Kirian in return, just that it feels more like an obsession rather than any real partnership here. I also honestly struggled with the whole transition to human partner more than I expected. I have read similar types of stories before, and I definitely did feel the love that the men had for each other coming through, even when Kirian is in dragon form. But no matter how close and connected they may have been in their soul bond, it still felt a little too much like a pet coming to life and becoming your boyfriend. I am not sure if it helped or hurt that Kostya admits to some pretty intense feelings for Kirian even when in dragon form. This is after they have sex (with Kirian as a human):

Now, I knew they had reason to be jealous of being fucked by dragons as well, since Kirian had been a beautiful, generous, sweet lover.

I’d always known he would be. Not that I’d ever admit to anyone that I’d thought about him that way when he’d been in dragon form. Maybe dragon’s were every bit as smart as humans, but that kind of thinking was likely to be taken as kindly as saying one found one’s sheep to be the sexiest creatures in existence.

And, unfortunately, that was a little bit too much how I felt about it all too.

The story does come together well from an emotional end, as both Kirian and Kostya have been harboring a lot of guilt for years over the long-ago accident and finally come to a place of peace. They both learn to accept that others have moved on and forgiven them and that it is time to stop hating themselves for the accident. There are also some nice messages regarding family and Kostya realizing the close connection he has with his siblings and cousins. I think this sense of kinship and bond is going to lead well into the next story, where presumably the political side of things will play a bigger role. I am really looking forward to the final book (which I’m hoping will be Dima’s, but I haven’t seen word yet) and seeing how it all comes together.

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