notes on Heart of the Dragon's Realm
This was my attempt at writing a story with an arranged marriage that leads to a slow-building romance. I admit I like the arranged marriage trope for its convenience — it's an easy way to get the couple to meet with built-in conflict — and yet there's something fulfilling in having the hero and heroine realize that the betrothal suits them very well after all.
Kimri showed up willful on the first page. Angry at her brother for betrothing her off, she refuses to speak to him on the day she leaves — a rather significant act, considering how close they are. So to charm that rebellious spirit, I found myself writing a man with patient ways to outwait her and a mysterious past to intrigue her. Then Tathan turned out to be so shy around her that I despaired of their ever coming together — until I wrote the scene with the fox. After that point, Herrol never stood a chance (and was never meant to be taken as serious competition, anyway).
From then on, the romance seemed so inevitable and drama-free that at one point in the draft, all Kimri ever really did was go around exploring the mountain kingdom and its culture and how wonderful it was. It is rather utopian, and I'm apologetic for that simplicity, but I wanted an ages-old ruler to actually be as wise as his years.
I tried hard to make minor characters that I either liked or could sympathize with; even the gruff king of Kenasgate unexpectedly turned out to approve of the way Kimri stood up to him. And Beatris almost stole the story and ran away with it, but she turned out to be too honorable.
Sword-dancing entered the picture because I wanted Kimri to be interested in non-traditional pursuits, and Tathan to be encouraging in his quiet way. Tying it into the wizards' duel format of constantly changing shapes was a bonus once I realized Tathan's true nature.
I know that there are similar elements in Sea Gifts, what with the dragon-shifting king in both stories — and, in fact, the river-dragon materialized in my imagination first, so they're probably both based off the water-residing dragons in Korean folktales — but I believe there can't be too many dragons in fiction.
This was originally presented as a young adult work, and I think it still could do decently with that audience, since it's a rather gentle romance. Previous titles include Through All Four Seasons and For a Hundred Swords.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley features a heroine who has to learn about another culture under strained circumstances; there's also a fair bit of swordfighting in here as well, and a sweet romance. McKinley is justly famed for her work in the fantasy field; there's a lovely mix of a mythic setting and down-to-earth heroine.
The Towers of the Sunset by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. involves an arranged marriage where the "prince" (he's from a mountain society where the women are famed for their skill with the sword, and men are considered inferior) flees on skis. There's some surprisingly interesting practical description about how to get a kingdom up and running, and a rocky courtship that fulfills all its promise.
On a rather different note, Dragon's Winter by Elizabeth Lynn is an oft-brutal tale of a dragon-king who rules over humans, many quite loyal to him. Other animal shapeshifters also play a part in this harsh world. And yet this is all couched in quite elegant language.