Mark is a post-graduate student at Mortimer College in Oxford. Though nearly thirty, Mark’s decided to follow his passion, saving for years to afford his tuition. He feels a bit inadequate, coming back to college so late in life, and stresses over the idea that he’ll be found lacking academically and “sent down.” On his first day, Mark heads out to watch the sunrise in Port Meadow and discovers a red dragon laying on the banks of the river. The dragon has a wing tangled in a steel fishing line, and Mark bravely frees the magnificent beast. Mark’s so enchanted, he tries to spy the dragon at other times, but only ever finds a single red scale, which Mark keeps as a talisman. In the rest of his time, Mark’s bivouacked in the Mortimer library reading and writing his literature review under the watchful gaze of the devastatingly sexy, but prickly head librarian, Rufus Mortimer.
Rufus was raised at Oxford, where his great-uncle was the head librarian before him. Like his dear uncle, Rufus is a red dragon, similarly despised by the bulk of his wealthy family and mainly shunned for being “unlucky”. Rufus has always been an outsider, and has limited social skills as a result. The larger Mortimer family is huge in hedge funds, venture capital, and traditional banking, but Rufus’ treasure isn’t gold or jewels; he collects books, again to the shame of his family. Rufus maintains an extensive personal library, in addition to the one at college. It holds his crown jewel: an illuminated book hundreds of years old called the Rosea that features images of red and white dragons in the hand-painted pages. The Mortimer family thought white dragons were extinct, but a contact of Rufus’ claims to have spotted one flying over Oxford at roughly the same time that his family fortunes are under attack by hackers.
As Mark and Rufus develop a tentative friendship, there’s definitely a simmering attraction. It’s not long before Mark makes the connection between Rufus and his dragon, much to Rufus’ chagrin, because this is highly confidential information. Still, their relationship builds naturally over several weeks and culminates in some tender moments–before the outside world rushes in. A particularly unpleasant student tries to make trouble, while the believed-extinct white dragon(s) seem to have the Rosea in their sights. It’s up to Mark and Rufus to save the Rosea and one another–both from university sanctions and nefarious activities. In the process, they learn a lot about themselves and the history of dragons in the UK.
This was a really interesting paranormal romance with a hint of adventure grounded in Oxford’s pomp and ceremony. I absolutely felt transported to England, seeing the whole place through the lens of Mark’s naiveté and wonder. The dragon parts were well managed, and I liked this “hiding in plain sight” paranormal story. Both main characters are good, decent men, and it was fun watching these introverts navigate dating with all their insecurities. There are well-developed supporting characters, who are all in for Mark and Rufus becoming a steady couple, even those Rufus least expects.
This is the first book in the Wings Over Albion series and I would absolutely read on.