I'm going to be completely honest with you here, I was interested in 'By Blood and Magic (The Dragon Portal Book 2)' by Jamie A. Waters when I read the summary, but it was the cover that kept recurring in my thoughts before I started it.
It's crazy.. but it reminded me so much of World of Warcraft's Jaina Proudmoore look from the most recent game expansion, that even though I'm not a huge fan of the character, I was constantly thinking about this title. There's something to be said for familiarity.. I suppose.. and it really is a gorgeous cover.
All that aside, I found myself surprised by exactly how much I loved the story.
"What's your plan, little one?"
"To bring the memory of life to a place of death."
Sabine is the main character, a fae on the run trying to stay ahead of those who would see her dead, and trying to help protect the world she lives in by sealing a dangerous dragon portal. As she flees across the ocean, the ship is viciously attacked and her companion and several crew members are taken hostage. To save them, she forges a pact bound by blood and magic, and the bulk of the story is about the journey she must take to uphold that agreement.
The ship's captain is a.. wow.. steamy, self-sacrificing dragon shifter.. named Malek.. who I can't get enough of (though her companions aren't entiredly trusting of him). His best friend is also captured with the crew, which sets him up to accompany her and the rest of her group in a bid to free the others.
"I don't know what he needs or what we can do for him. Do you think he's hurt?"
"Well, if we can't figure it out, I could always use a pair of dragonskin boots..."
There's a great deal of traveling throughout the adventure and along the way they meet some other interesting characters. Sabine is a really sweet, kind natured woman who seems to constantly be adding to her own worries, by trying to look out for others. And Malek is a great match for that. He's powerful, if a bit possessive (but really, he makes that work) and at times he's stubborn, but so is she.
Truthfully, they both seem to have more inner conflict than conflict between each other and it's kind of a nice change. At times, he's a little too easy going.. too perfect. He's the most rational male on the planet and she's every bit his equal in that regard as well. If it weren't for all the chaos going on around them, they might also be the most boring couple ever to exist. But there's plenty of drama to keep things spicy and their chemistry is undeniable from the get-go.
"In a word, she was exquisite. And he was well and truly screwed."
I really enjoyed the author's perspective on Faerie and those connected with it. This is also one of the few times I've seen a story with so many wide ranging fantasy races that felt natural. It didn't feel like they were just fodder being paraded out in front of the reader to add words to the page. They were important parts of the people of this world and they each had their roles to play.
My favorite supporting character had to be Blossom. She's this adorable pixie that's part of Sabine's traveling group and if I'm being honest, she reminded me of a less thirsty version of Lehabah from Crescent City. She's super cute, feisty as can be, and very funny.. one hilarious little drama queen. She's also capable of much greater things than pixies typically are in most fantasy stories I've read.
"Blossom's eyes widened, and she shoved the entire piece of cake in her mouth. Her cheeks bulged as she chewed. She held out her hand in a silent gesture for more.."
"I suppose there's no use in telling you to pace yourself..."
"Blossom shook her head and held out both hands, her eyes pleading..."
In fact, the dialogue is definitely punctuated with humor and it doesn't feel overdone at all. There were several times I caught myself laughing aloud.. or smiling in response to something that amused me.
If you're looking for a very solid new series to add to your TBR, this is the one. There's a ton of backstory referenced in this one about her family and her role within the Fae, and something called the Wild Hunt.. which of course made me think of Witcher as well. I'm absolutely going back to get book one, as I'm curious to see if the two are both derived from the folklore of ancient Northern and Central Europe. Plus.. book three is already on the way and I want to be ready!