Hi, everyone. My name is Susan Laine, and I’m an author of LGBTQ romances. I’m a Finn who writes in English. Firstly, I’d like to thank Anders and Divine Magazine for having me here today. It’s release day for my paranormal gay romance, Stealing Dragon’s Heart. You can find the story from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, and other retailers.
The story is about a human thief and an ancient dragon meeting under less than auspicious circumstances and learning they must work together to save the world. So… no pressure. You can find the blurb below.
“A Lifting the Veil Story
Notorious master thief Finn Grayson is hired to break into a high-class skyscraper in New Shanghai and steal a priceless artifact known as the Shard. But someone’s gotten to the Shard first—and the penthouse suite turns out to be a dragon’s lair.
Cameron Feilong, Guardian of the Earth Shard, is ancient enough to realize that he and his unbidden guest are being used like puppets on a string. Forming a shaky alliance is the only way for them to survive and to stop their ruthless foes.
Unfortunately, Finn and Cam seem to be forever one step behind. To learn more about their clandestine enemy, they travel together from walled Asian cities, barren tundras, and underwater temples to secret paranormal clubs and legendary elvish cities. Finn and Cam must learn to trust each other before it’s too late, for bringing together the five Elemental Shards will spell the end of the world.”
Today, however, I’m here to shed light on the inspiration and background of the story.
I was but a child when my mother introduced me to ancient Chinese culture, art, and literature. Her love became mine. Being a Finn, ancient China felt like a mythical land itself, and I couldn’t wait to explore. Later, in college, I learned more about Chinese poetry and culture and continued to be fascinated by it all. Ever since those days, I’ve wanted to write a story based on those intriguing little facets I love about ancient China.
So how come the story of Stealing Dragon’s Heart is set in contemporary times (even if it’s an alternate version of our current time)? The answer is simple: I wanted dragons! Specifically, Chinese dragons that are depicted as wise, good, and honorable. And for dragons, you need a fantasy or paranormal setting. Which I had in my Lifting the Veil series. All the stories in the series are standalones, so the new tale fitted in well. Like dragons, I could let my imagination soar.
The setting takes place in a so-called today—an alternate contemporary: It is now over a decade after the mysterious Veil lifted and reshaped our reality. That event brought together our mundane human world and the magical realm of myths, legends, and folklore. Now mythical, paranormal, and supernatural creatures and humans do their best to navigate the uncertainties of our transformed planet.
Of the two main heroes in Stealing Dragon’s Heart, Cameron Feilong is the immortal dragon whose sacred duty is to guard the Earth Shard. Below are a few images of how I envisioned him, a gorgeous tall man with long black hair and yellow robes.
(Photos: actor Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers; http://www.china-cart.com/)
I incorporated the idea of five eastern elements, called Wǔ Xíng, to the mysterious Shards that are featured in the story. I first discovered Wǔ Xíng through art, as dreamlike paintings of the five elements—wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
Below are a few examples of the Wǔ Xíng painting style.
(Pictures: 1. Wǔ Xíng Wikipedia page; 2-4. http://wuxingpainting.blogspot.fi/, works of Elena Kasiyanenko)
The cover of Stealing Dragon’s Heart, which depicts the Wǔ Xíng painting style, was done by the extremely talented Anne Cain.
This elegant concept of five elements, which according to traditional Chinese views explains a plethora of phenomena, from atoms to universes, has intrigued me since I was a kid. Considering their importance, the five elements have a significant cultural impact which is reflected in literature, art, philosophy, morality, law, and so on.
Back in college, I was privileged to study Chinese historical poetry (and I even wrote a few myself). These historical treasures are lovely, ethereal, melancholic, and dreamy. I fell in love with them. Cameron Feilong, my ancient dragon, shares my love. In the story, he reveals a couple of his favorite poems, and even recites a few lines from his own creation.
One of the literary gems mentioned is Dù Fǔ, who was one of the most essential poets of the Tang period. Here is an English translation of a segment of one of his poems, In Abbot Zan’s Room at Dayun Temple: Four Poems.
“We’ve grasped each other’s arms so many days,
And opened our hearts without shame or evasion.
Golden orioles flit across the beams [of the great court],
Purple doves descend from lattice screens.
Myself, I think I’ve found a place that suits,
I walk by flowers at my own slow pace.”
Here’s another, a segment from Dù Fǔ’s poem, Spring View.
“The country is broken though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.”
These poems, that in my humble opinion give us a glimpse of how the ancient Chinese people viewed their lives and roles in society and in the world, were connected to art through calligraphy. The great poets of Chinese history were able to write poems with a flourish, sometimes showcasing entire verses with a few or just a single fluid brush stroke. Their penmanship was an artistic testament to their skill as writers of beautiful expressions.
Below is an example of how calligraphy connected literature and art into a seamless whole. This is a classic shi style verse by Qing Qianlong Emperor from the Qing Dynasty:
(Photo: Wikipedia, Classical Chinese poetry)
As you can see, there’s an inextricable bond between various forms of expression—literature, penmanship, and painting style. The aesthetic always pleased me as a child, and now as an adult, ancient China inspired me to write a story about a wise dragon in a mythical world.
So there you have it. My inspiration for Stealing Dragon’s Heart and for my beautiful dragon, Cam Feilong. I hope you liked a bit of back story as well as the introduction into ancient Chinese culture. Thank you, Anders, for hosting my guest post, and thank you, readers, for stopping by!
Review by Elaine White
Book – Stealing Dragon’s Heart (Lifting the Veil #6)
Author – Susan Laine
Star rating – ★★★☆☆
No. of Pages – 240
Movie Potential – ★★★☆☆
Ease of reading – some struggles
Would I read it again – Probably not.
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE PUBLISHER, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
WARNING: knotted (spiked) private parts, used and mentioned, in this story.
To be honest, I wasn’t that “sucked in” by this story at the start. It took about 20% for me to stop procrastinating and turning to FB for a distraction before I really got into it. By then, I was more intrigued by where the story was heading and was just beginning to find out who these characters were. It’s a long time to take, just to get into the story, but I’ll let that pass for the moment.
This story introduces events and beings that haven’t been mentioned previously, but there is some mix-up between what we’ve been told of the Unveiled world in previous books to what is mentioned in this one.
I have 3 very important things to say about the story before I go into details:
- It’s 1st person POV, which wasn’t so bad in the end, but is a pet hate of mine for reasons I’ll explain later.
- The story takes place further ahead in the world timeline than the others of the series.
- And it really confused me.
Although there was a decent plot here – more consistently written and explored than some others in the series – I had some issues that lowered the rating from a 4, which is what my heart said to rate it, to a 3, which my head decided on.
I hate first person POV. I can’t explain all of the reasons why, but one of them is represented in this book quite a lot: “Now there’s something you should know about me.”: I hate when the MC talks to the reader, especially when it’s to give a lecture or include us in the story or to include a massive info dump in what seems a natural or acceptable way. It’s not and all three reasons crop up in various places in the book.
On top of that, the MC Finn stops the flow of the story to describe himself. And I’m not making that up. He literally does just that, which feels lazy to me. In other books in this series, characters have tossed hair out of their way, as a way of showing the color of their hair or eyes, and this would have worked so much better. Stopping to say this is ridiculous and pulled me from my reading:
“Perhaps at this point, a brief physical description might be in order. I’m twenty-eight years old, relatively tiny at five six, small framed at 139 pounds, lean, agile, and swift, with short brown hair and hazel eyes, more greenish than brown.”
There’s also this little nugget, further along:
“That is why I gave you my stats, so you’d know why I was so good at my disreputable job. So there.”
This sounds far too much like the author reading back and trying to justify their use of the above quote. Again, it reads as lazy and really jars me from my reading.
The way Cameron’s dragon influences people – Irish jigs and singing songs – is another display of the ridiculous that has appeared in the Lifting the Veil series before. In a brilliantly written and plotted world, with good description and incredible characters, the author always spoils the non-wolf related stories with ridiculous magical notions that neither fit the story or the characters and feel nothing more than an attempt to make the reader have a giggle. I didn’t laugh. At all.
There was some good tail and historical/archeological reference when it came to Finn casing Cam’s apartment and eyeing the priceless artefacts on show. However, there was also an abrupt change in location – more than once – with no warning, separation from the previous scene or hint of traveling or movement.
Also, the previous story stated that all progenitor wolves were created at the same time and created equally. We were told this when one tried to claim he was the King of Progenitors. Now, in this story, we’re being told that there was one wolf Progenitor that preceded them all. This directly contradicts the information given to us in the previous story and, despite having had 3 wolf related stories so far, has remained unmentioned.
Though this version hasn’t been officially formatted, it is in dire need of editing. I can’t say whether that’s been done or not, only that I was warned beforehand that the formatting hadn’t been finalized, which is understandably for an ARC. However, there were spaces missing all over the place, combining two words; dashes were missing, grammar mistakes abounded, full stops were missing etc. It wasn’t flooded with these mistakes, but there were enough that I noticed and marked that as a note. There are even instances of two characters talking in one paragraph, which is not how it’s supposed to be formatted, but which made the reading a little stuttered and confused as I tried to figure out who was saying the words to whom.
Another big plot related problem was that Finn twice claims that Cameron told him something, almost immediately or five minutes after that so-called conversation, despite the fact that we saw no such conversation and there was no indication of any characters talking before or after that fact, that would give him the chance to have said such things.
Instance 1: “I thought you said they were nuns”. Well, actually, Cameron only asked if he knew of mermaids. He never explained what they were.
Instance 2: “As our reluctant elf guide had informed us”. Again, no. We’re quite blatantly told that the elf guide tells them of the secret passageway, then spouts off a prophesy type paragraph then runs off. He never had time or the inclination to say anything else.
I know it all sounds negative, but this is why I was in two minds about how to review and rate it. For once, outside of the wolf books of the series which were all fantastic, the paranormal element doesn’t feel forced on the story. This doesn’t read as a contemporary story, with a paranormal element shoved down its throat, like some of the other books in the series. This one is natural, consistent and actually made sense.
I took issue with a few things that kept creeping up in the same way as the mistakes. The first was the constant physical reminders that Cameron was Asian. To me, these felt quite racist in the generalizing and overall bluntness with which they were described. Both “slanted eyes” and “yellowed skin” – which are two of the biggest Asian stereotypes to exist – were included here. Both in such a way that was supposed to make Cameron sound mysterious and intriguing, but which make my teeth ache with how awfully racist they read.
That’s just a little ironic, considering Finn’s thoughts a little later, concerning someone else.
“I had to bite my lower lip so I wouldn’t start screaming at the injustice and racism around me.”
The second problem was the constant referencing. This has happened in other books in the series, but never to this extent, though the constant use of characters quoting other authors or proverbs in the other books had already become really annoying! In this one, that kicks up a notch to high gear. Not only are celebrities, movies, songs and poets quoted, but sometimes nearly half a page is filled with another person’s poetry being quoted by the characters. These are then followed or preceded by explanations of who the author is and what the title is in an attempt to deal with copyright issues. I have no doubt the percentage of information used falls within fair use, but I see no purpose to any of them. All references could have easily been removed – both in full form and with their owner/title names – without affecting the story. More often than not the plot suggested at what they were supposed to say anyway.
Another strange occurrence is the sudden reference of Sigmund as a dire wolf. Now, previously in the series, all wolf forms have been called lycans or werewolves. There has never been a mention of dire wolves until now and, suddenly, in its wake, there is no more talk of lycans or werewolves either. So it seems one has been traded for another, which provides more inconsistency within the series.
I find it a little frustrating that we know from the start that when Finn and Cam take off together that he’d wearing his black ‘uniform’ that he wore to break into the place. And, naturally, I would have suspected that he had some kind of gear on him, to facilitate his theft. But claiming he’s got a half page of items on his person the entire time – after diving into an underwater world twice, two massive fights to the death and more dangers – is stretching believability. Especially when half those items wouldn’t fit into pockets.
In case you’re wondering if I’m over-exaggerating, this is the list of items he claims he has on him:
“A bump key, pry bar, rappelling/abseiling rope, blowtorch, gloves, screwdriver, lockpicks, glass cutter, blackjack, wire cutters, forgery tools, bolt cutters, grappling hook, base jumping parachute, Swiss army knife, lighter and matches, medical kit, extra pair of gloves, that sort of thing. And that’s just the low-tech stuff.”
See what I mean?
I really liked Finn and Cameron as main characters. They had their flaws, but they were also complimentary to each other, offering what the other person lacked. And, I got my mythical being falling for another mythical being, so I’m happy with that.
However, I get that Finn is a thief and Cameron is a dragon, but the constant reminders were wearing. Whenever anyone wanted to insult Finn they called him a thief. A whenever Finn was around Cameron, the thought of him being a big bad dragon got him horny.
Finn can be quite childish at times while Cameron is ridiculously moody.
Taking everything into account, I enjoyed the characterisation and plot more than I liked the execution. There were some serious issues with how this book was written and presented, which are reflected in the two missing stars from my rating.
On the plus side, the plot was original and intriguing, after a while. I was surprised a few times and enjoyed the overall journey though it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies.
I wouldn’t read it again because it wasn’t the kind of book that made me feel I’d want to pick it up and spend time reading it again from start to finish. Quite honestly, I skimmed the last 10% of sex scenes, which are becoming typical for these standalone reads in the series.
It was a nice read. Not fantastic, not terrible.
“Susan Laine is an award-winning, multi-published author of LGBTQ erotic romance. Her favorite pastimes include listening to music, watching action flicks, eating chocolate, and doing the dishes while pondering the meaning of life. Visit Susan’s website.”
Susan Laine’s Author Website – http://www.susan-laine-author.fi/
Publisher and Distributor of Gay Romance Novels, Short Stories, and eBooks Publisher and Distributor of Gay Romance Novels, Short Stories, and eBooks.