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Of Water and Dragons

By Kelley Heckart

ISBN: 1419604570
Review by: Grace Tierney


Opposites attract, or so they claim. In that case, merging druidic traditions with Roman laws, mingling romance with fantasy, and having a thousand-year-old water faery fall for a cavalry officer should be easy in Of Water and Dragons by first-time author Kelley Heckart.

Originally a short story, this intricately plotted novel begins when Nemu (daughter of a fisherman and a water-faery) saves Ambiorix (a Roman officer) following his injury in battle against the Caledonian Celts of Northern Britain in 84 A.D. Unsurprisingly given their backgrounds, they immediately reject each other’s worldviews. What does surprise them is their struggle to reject their mutual attraction.

Ambiorix rejoins his legion and Nemu expects to continue her solitary twilight existence in the forests. Heckart has other plans, however, and our heroes proceed to be challenged physically and culturally as Rome’s vision of order clashes violently with druidic traditions. When Nemu joins with a wise druid-in-hiding called Aberth and learns of an ancient prophecy her fate entwines with that of the Celtic rebels. Meanwhile Ambiorix becomes reluctantly ensnared in the same cause thanks to his Celtic friend Cavarnius, revelations about his own background, and his own instinct to reject the constraints of Roman culture such as class, arranged marriages, and slave-ownership.

Thankfully, despite its origins in short fiction, Of Water and Dragons is never short of plot. Quite the opposite in fact which sporadically leads spurts in the pace of the work. This is compensated for by the excellent painting of both the natural environment and of the main characters, in particular Nemu. Her affinity and interactions with water are elegant and totally believable. Simple details like her ability to make music using her wings, or her love of the fishbone comb left to her by her now absent faery-mother allow the reader to form their own picture and to empathize with her difficulties in dealing the humans.

The historical setting of the story is well drawn in general, although the author sometimes succumbs to bouts of “must include every research gem regardless of story requirements.” Seven Roman architectural terms in one page of a bath-house scene proved too much even for this history-fan. However that tendency decreases as the narrative continues and captures the reader.

Two other difficulties this reader encountered were the inclusion of colloquial American dialogue for ancient Romans and Celts which may be a deliberate stylistic device but jarred with the precise historical details elsewhere, and the inclusion of the dragon. Suffice to say that if you buy this book because you love stories about dragons and there’s one in the title, then you are going to be disappointed.

Having said that, there’s plenty to enjoy in this read without any fire breathing creatures swooping out of castles. The two main characters, and some of the supporting cast like Aberth the druid and Rhonwyn the female warrior, grow believably to break the chains of their pasts and the conclusion of both the main plot-line and subsidiary stories is satisfying and uplifting. Unlike many modern novels, particularly those which have sequels pending, as in this case, simply leave dozens of loose ends dangling which can be frustrating for readers who wait impatiently for the next book to reach publication. Thankfully Heckart avoids this ploy.

If you like a touch of mysticism and fantasy with your historical romance than this book is surely worth a try. You may find Nemu grows on you as she did on me. You’ll be looking for faeries in the wood before you know it.

So, do opposites attract? In this case yes, although Nemu and Ambiorix grow more alike during the course of their adventures. Perhaps they’re not opposites at all?

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