Accompanied by her brother and her dragon, Phoebe Hart is en route to London for her first — and probably her only — Season. The only person in her family ever to be born with even a hint of magic, Phoebe was chosen by a dragon when she was only a child. Linking supposedly strengthens an individual’s magic and aids in their focus and discipline. Phoebe, unfortunately, has almost no control over her light affinity and she expects her Season to be a disaster. But then she and her brother rescue Deborah, a young girl on the run who has collapsed by the side of the road. And then she meets the new Lord Westing, an arrogant lord with a gift for ice magic. And then someone breaks into her room and there is a strange dragon flying around London and the Luddites are threatening revolution and … well … perhaps her Season won’t be a disaster after all … if she survives it ….
I have a soft spot for Regency-based fantasies. Give me a tale of a bookish heroine with magic having an adventure amidst high tea and ballgowns and I’m happy. I was thrilled, then, when I stumbled across A Proper Dragon. Intrigued, I downloaded the sample, and then immediately purchased the book.
Phoebe is wonderful. She is practical-minded, but also deeply compassionate. She is constantly rescuing stray animals and stray children. She is also aware that her status as one of the dragon-linked has put her family in jeopardy. Traditionally, the dragon-linked were among the elite: well-educated and wealthy and urban. In her rural village, she was an oddity, looked upon with suspicion and fear by her neighbors. While she remains away in London, her family is safe and her younger sisters have a chance to make good marriages of their own. If she were to return in disgrace, unwed, that would change. And so she is determined to make the most of her Season, for the sake of her family.
I also really like Lord Westing. His affinity for ice has brought him nothing but grief. He has accidentally harmed people he cares about, and so he now holds himself aloof. But his uncle is threatening to seize custody of his younger half-siblings and his stepmother is in danger of being deported. On top of that, the head of British Intelligence is harassing him to help with a secret investigation and, for some reason, he can’t get Phoebe out of his mind.
Wheeler put a lot of thought into the magical system and how that relates to dragon society and evolution. Traditionally, a dragon would link with an individual with a potential for magic, and stay for the rest of that person’s life. When their human dies, they fly off to join the large, isolated colony of dragons in the north, where they mate and nest and live peacefully. (There are exceptions. I am curious to know more about the dragon that sleeps under the Tower of London, and how it is tied to the fate of the country.)
On the surface, A Proper Dragon is just a light-hearted romance. But there is much going on beneath the surface. Through the story of Phoebe and Westing and their circle of family and friends, the book tackles everything from gender relations to socio-economic disparity, from classism and oppression to immigrant rights, from child neglect and abuse to the sometimes fine line between revolution and terrorism.
I thoroughly enjoyed A Proper Dragon. I look forward to reading the next two books, which follow the adventures of Phoebe’s new friends and their search for love and acceptance.
Recommended to fans of Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis, The Elf Tangent by Lindsey Buroker, The Extraordinaries series by Melissa McShane, and The Regency Mage series by Joyce Harmon.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]