Happy weekend, all! I am taking this opportunity to some of my “backfill” from this year – man, am I behind! But, there has been so many amazing books out this year and last, is it any surprise my reading is outpacing my reviewing?! One of the books I swore I would get around to reviewing is Nora Roberts’ The Awakening, book one in Nora’s new Dragon Heart Legacy trilogy. Not going to lie, Nora Roberts is my guilty pleasure. I am not much of a romance reader, but Nora’s “formula” just really works for me. So when I found out she had a new fantasy series coming out AND it was set in Ireland and Philly? Sold. Also, that cover!
From the Publisher:
Author Nora Roberts begins a new trilogy of adventure, romance, and magick in The Awakening.
In the realm of Talamh, a teenage warrior named Keegan emerges from a lake holding a sword—representing both power and the terrifying responsibility to protect the Fey. In another realm known as Philadelphia, a young woman has just discovered she possesses a treasure of her own…
When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.
This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny…
What I Loved:
- The Settings. Nora writes a spectacular Irish scene. The Awakening was certainly no exception. We begin our journey with Breen in Philly, another one of my favorite places, and her apartment is in the Gayborhood. I loved how Nora brought the lights, grit, and music of one of the best Philly neighborhoods, as we follow Breen and her best friend Marco around to a drag show with their adopted family. What I loved even more (sorry, Philly!) was when Breen and Marco make their way across the pond to Ireland, where Breen finds herself. There is a cottage with a peat fire in the hearth, rolling emerald hills, the pebbled beaches along the wild Atlantic way, and scenic windows for Breen to write her novels. I am obsessed. Major FOMO reading these scenes. And what is even more magical is Roberts’ description of Tamalh, the magical realm adjacent to Galway where Breen’s grandmother and old friends live. Beautiful forests teeming with magical beings, farms, hidden waterfalls… Where is my passport?
- The Magic. Sometimes, when non-fantasy writers delve into Fey worlds and throw in some dragons and shapeshifters, it comes off as kitschy and cliché. Nora Roberts made it fun. She incorporated her normal witchy elements and enhanced the witchiness with some hunky dragon riding fey warriors and Arthurian-esque swords being delivered by ladies in lakes. We have spells, we have wands, and we have pure magic. At no point did I feel like the magical elements entered into cringe territory. There were clear rules in this magical system, a governance structure, and a dose of “reality” with how Breen sees this new world through a modern girl’s eyes. I can’t wait to see more of the Tamalh magic.
- The Struggle.…. Is real. What I mean is that I loved the dichotomy between Breen’s “real world” life as a budding author and new world traveler, and Tamalh life as a new witch, fighter, and Chosen One. I loved how Nora showed the struggle between a normal life and that of the hero, and I love that Breen approached this choice in a fairly logical way. I empathized with her most in these moments – what do you WANT to do, and what do you HAVE to do? Who does Breen want to be, and can she have it all?
What Didn’t Work as Well:
- The Pacing and Length. I often feel like Nora’s books are too short. Here, not so much. The Awakening was 435 pages, and too many of those were taken up by Breen finding herself and not enough of them were Breen kicking a** or learning how to be the witch warrior she will be. The other thing about Nora’s books is that she normally has a pretty large cast of central characters. Her normal formula is three couples, with the women being powerful heroines coming into themselves and the men being great supporting characters and sometimes the leads. Those trilogies are the same number of pages. Breen just couldn’t hold up a 435 page book on her own, especially without the romance kicking in until the latter half. This could have used some tightening.
- The Romance. As someone who can appreciate the trappings around a good Nora book, the romance in The Awakening was definitely lacking. Keegan and Breen didn’t start their romantic journey until towards the end, and the steamy scenes were less robust than some prior Noras. I like the Keegan/Breen combo – he is the warrior Taoiseach, dragon rider, fierce protector, and pretty crappy teacher, while Breen is the unwilling Chosen One who has decades of training to catch up on, but who is a strong will, huge heart, and a hefty dose of rationality note often found in Nora heroines. I am certainly excited to see their relationship grow, but it didn’t do much for me in this book.
To be honest, that’s it on cons I can put a name to. I really enjoyed The Awakening, but wouldn’t call it my favorite of the Nora Roberts “set in Ireland with fantasy element” trilogies. It leaves the formula by having one heroine, and I don’t know if she will be able to stand that weight. This is “Nora Lite.”
Another fun and beautifully set Nora Roberts, The Awakening is definitely written for Nora fans who love Ireland and who love when Nora incorporates the supernatural into her romances. While this wouldn’t be my first choice as a recommendation for my favorite Irish supernatural Nora (that honor goes to the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy), I am as excited as ever to see where this new trilogy brings us. Because, who can beat a witchy protagonist with a dog sidekick, and dragons?! Four waves out of five! Grab The Awakening from Bookshop here (on sale in hardcover now or preorder the paperback) and get ready for book two, out sometime at the end of this year.