This is another book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, which was introduced with The Fairy Godmother. Unfortunately, in this book the rather clever magic system the earlier book introduces is mostly just accepted, rather than expanded and made cooler. It's sort of based on the Greek myth of Andromeda -- but other than the most superficial outline of the situation, the main similarity is some names. Unfortunately, while not being tied to a well-known myth freed Lackey to have an original and surprising plot, what she produced was painfully predictable, and mostly unnecessarily. There were a couple of what were perhaps supposed to be subtle foreshadowings, but unfortunately, these little bits of text told me exactly where the rest of the story was going. Without those hints, I might have found the plot at least a little less predictable, but I still think it would have been weak.
From my description of the plot, you might assume that I hated the book, but I didn't. Lackey continues to be able to write in such a way that I enjoy the story and care about the characters, even though I shouldn't. So, if you share my guilty pleasure of enjoying Mercedes Lackey books, this, too, is entertaining, though pretty much cotton candy. It's a good flavor of cotton candy. 7 out of 10.
Up to now in these reviews, I've had a policy of not including any story details, because I don't like to have spoilers in book reviews. But I am now changing my policy, because I want to serve another purpose with these reviews, which is to help me remember something about the books that I've read, since I seem to completely forget most of the books I read so soon. I'll keep the spoilers behind cut tags, so readers who don't want any secrets revealed can be happy, but if anyone wants to hear about the plot, now you'll be able to.
Princess Andromeda of Acadia ("Andie") is a smart, bookish, unladylike teenager who is just transitioning, character-wise, from a child into an adult. Her mother, Queen Cassiopeia, is very beautiful and skilled in using the social graces as weapons. Andie is neither, and is desperate to win Cassiopeia's approval. She manages to get her mother's attention with her library research talents, and gets promoted from "child" to "special adviser". Cassiopeia wants to control Andie by awakening the kind of ambition Cassiopeia herself has, but trouble develops as Andie begins to find hints of something very wrong in the castle records. While this is going on, a dragon shows up and ravages the city. (There's a single sentence where the dragon is described as "sad eyed" which twigged me to most of the rest of the story.) In fairly short order, the rulers come up with the traditional plan of offering virgins to pacify the dragon. And, of course, Cassiopeia and her ally the wizard Solon rig the lottery so that the daughters of inconvenient people are selected. It becomes clear to Cassiopeia that Andie knows too much, so Andie is selected to be dragon chow. Andie's loyal friends give her the means to escape from her bonds at the sacrifice place and seed the area with weapons. Just as the dragon shows up, a Champion in full armor arrives and seemingly chases the dragon away, though the dragon doesn't really use his full power. The Champion, who claims to be called George, tries to be very nasty to Andie to get rid of her, but Andie insists on joining the quest. Eventually, Andie manages to be plucky enough to get George to admit that the reason he's being so brusque is to keep The Tradition from making Andie fall in love with her rescuer. Andie comes up with the idea that they swear to be blood siblings, and relations thaw a bit, when a ditzy unicorn spills the beans by rejoicing that he has two virgins to choose from. Yup, George is really Georgina, and now goes by Gina. The dragon tries to talk to the girls but Gina is too fired up trying to fight it off, so the dragon retreats. After a little more searching, the girls find two dragons, being fiercely defended by all of the other "sacrificed" maidens, wielding makeshift weapons. The dragons manage to get Gina to hear their message: the ravaging dragon, Adamant (who is called Adam, which I found consistently annoying because he was now "Adam Ant" in my mind -- how undraconic!) is only ravaging because he is bound by a spell made with a scale he lost. The other dragon, Periapt ("Peri") is Adam's brother, a special sort of dragon who hordes knowledge rather than gold, yes (wait for it) a Bookwyrm. Andie and Peri immediately hit it off, though it takes until the end of the book for them to admit that they're in love. With Gina's leadership and training as a Champion and Andie's knowledge of the castle, they hatch a plan to harness The Tradition to form a Ragged Band, a Traditional trope for untrained peasants rescuing kingdoms from evil rulers. The Tradition enables the girls to become effective fighters. They succeed in taking over the castle, killing few of the guards; in the last battle, Solon kills Cassiopeia and transforms into a Demon Lord, Gina attacks the Demon Lord and is grievously wounded, Andie gets knocked on the head, and Adam tosses the Demon Lord down a cliff. Elena the Godmother arrives in time to heal Andie and Gina and have everything put nearly to right, only to have Andie pitch a fit because now Peri, her true love, will leave her. Elena believes she can transform Peri into a human, because the first Bookwyrm was a human who became a dragon to protect his library against a pillaging mob, but only if there is a human who is willing to be turned into a dragon. Gina gladly volunteers. Gina the dragon and Adam and Peri the human and Andie get married in a double wedding, and we presume they lived happily ever after.
Really, the only significant unexpected plot development from the sad eyed dragon was the transformation of Peri and Gina, and Gina marrying Adam at the end. Andie and Peri were too clearly in love to not end up together (this after all is a romance novel). I was just hoping that Lackey would be bold enough to have a dragon and a human marry, but that would probably go too far for a pretty G-rated book.