“Leto leaned close and brushed his lips against hers. “This my brave girl. This is beautiful pain.”
After reading the prequel for the Dragon Kings series I couldn’t wait to delve into the first book, Caged Warrior. This is what I would call a dark paranormal romance, there is little humor and a lot of suffering and strife. I think I should warn readers before I get into the actual review that regardless of the name this series isn’t about dragon shifters, the dragon mentioned is actually their deity and the five different factions or groups who make up the Dragon Kings have inherited powers from that deity that are all different. Some have powers of the mind, some increased speed and strength and still others berserker like rages or control over fire and electricity. Awesome powers wielded by interesting characters.
When the story opens Audrey McLaren wakes up in a dank prison cell alone and afraid. She’s spent the last several months with her son in the labs of a ruthless human cartel scientist who is trying to figure out how she managed to conceive naturally when most Dragon Kings aren’t able to conceive at all. She’s been cut up, experimented on and watched her young son suffer and husband die. At this point she’s willing to do what ever it takes to escape and take her son Jack with her. The first person she meets is her new tormentor and the man who will train her to fight in the cartel cage matches. Leto Garnis. Leto grew up in the underground world of cage fighting. He’s been fighting twenty years for the right for one of his sisters to have help conceiving and for the care of his other sister who is comatose. This life is all he knows. He’s extremely loyal to the cartel family who owns him and has nothing but disdain for the weak, dirty woman who has been given to him to train.
This is a much deeper, darker paranormal romance than I’m used to. Leto doesn’t give any quarter to Audrey when he’s training her… there are no soft words or easy touches. He trains her hard, beating her down and handling her roughly for the first part of the book. I didn’t like him much. There is no insta-love or fated soul mates rubbish to get through. This couple fights, literally fights each other in matches and while training. Audrey resists her Dragon King persona until she just can’t anymore. Then she transforms into Nynn, the girl she left behind when she decided to live in the human world with her husband.
“He was worth everything I’ve endured, everything I ever will. And you’ve never felt it’s like.”
Anger lifted in Leto’s chest. Almost pain. Almost shame. Because she was right.
Nynn has had human connections, her husband and son, she’s been an outcast living in the regular world for years. She’s left behind her Dragon King kin and gone on with her life. She knows that being kept in the caves and being forced in cage fighting is like living in slavery. She is not about to bow down to the cartel family who all but owns her and will fight to the death for her son. The offer is simple, if she fights and survives for a year she can get Jack back. Leto is given a different deal, he must partner with Nynn in the cages and keep her alive for three fights in order to secure the care of his sister for the entirety of her life.
I read this book in one sitting. I just couldn’t make myself find a place to stop. It was dark and moody and violent. The love that these two find is hard-won. Leto treats Nynn so harsh at first that I was wondering if I would actually be able to find their eventual affection for each other realistic. But once I got into the Dragon King world and dived deep into the way these beings live I just can’t see how else this story would have played out. Leto and Nynn learn from each other, their relationship evolves and changes how they each think and fight for what they need. She discovers her strengths and he starts to understand that the kind of life he has lived is no kind of life at all. The attraction they feel for each other becomes need and want. Leto turns into a protector and defender.
“You take everything from me.” He positioned himself at her slick opening and pulsed inside. No quick thrust. Not even a tease– just the gentleness she’d asked for. Hard, thick, almost asking permission. “Just as you give everything to me.”
Even after reading the prequel, Silent Warrior, and this book I still have questions about the world building and how this race of supernatural creatures formed. Their higher being, the dragon, is often mentioned, but I still don’t quite understand how these beings came to be or how they turned from strong, powerful creatures to basically slaves to the cartels collared and controlled. I’m almost glad this isn’t another shifter series, there is a depth to the world building I haven’t seen in a new PNR series in a while. It’s interesting and well thought out. The characters are allowed to have strengths as well as weaknesses. they change and adjust to their circumstances. There is so much potential for growth that I find myself very much looking forward to seeing where Ms. Piper takes the Dragon Kings next. Final grade- B
“I’ve seen the snow and the sun now, but without you, I’ll live in the dark forever.”