A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary review: Two warriors who take on the quest for the Promised Land through inhuman hardship and pain realize in the end that their real home has always been within each other.
The Blurb: Bear has never regretted leaving his old life behind for his exotically beautiful lover, Dragon. Following his heart, though, has left them in need of a home. There’s only one place he can think of where they can be together and be happy. Shenandoah. A place of myth—until he encounters signs that it’s a real place that lies somewhere to the north.
Dragon doesn’t share his lover’s faith that it even exists, much less that it will live up to Bear’s high expectations. Yet they are Brothers now, bound by love and so much more. No hardship will keep Dragon from Bear’s side. Even if it means nothing but disappointment waits at the end of their journey.
Danger lurks in the wilderness, the ruined cities of the lost Old World, and especially within themselves. As Bear’s quest for a new home becomes a spirit journey of mystical power, Dragon doubts his own strength—an unbearable shame he tries to hide deep within. But when a chance encounter turns into a fight for survival, Bear’s life depends on Dragon’s ability to put his doubts aside…and dare to hope.
The Review: This book is the sequel to the novella Dragon’s Kiss, reviewed by Wave earlier this year here . Although Shenandoah can be read as a standalone, I’d recommend you read both books in order because most of the worldbuilding is done in the first book.
Now Bear has decided to leave his old life, his pack brothers and his home behind for Dragon, they have to look after themselves. This isn’t easy for only two men. Their post-apocalyptic, scary world is haunted by human predators who hunt down and kill other people for sport or food; the tribes, on the other hand, are sealed off from outsiders and would rather kill strangers than welcome them. However, for as long as he can remember, Bear has had dreams or visions of a tribe, the Shenandoah, that will take in strangers on the single condition, that they don’t harm innocents. Now that he needs a home for himself and Dragon he’s determined to find them.
Dragon knows they have precious little choice other than seeking acceptance with another tribe. Although he doesn’t quite believe that Shenandoah really exists, he follows Bear’s lead without opposition, since Bear has so obviously set his heart on finding Shenandoah, and Dragon actually doesn’t care either way. He wants to be with Bear, and nothing else really matters to him. Yet, Dragon has his own demons to fight. His old tribe ran mostly on deception and power play, which left Dragon with trust issues and a deeply ingrained fear of appearing weak. This leads to Dragon keeping his fears from Bear, which leads to Bear worrying and trying to get into Dragon’s head, which in turn leads to them having a fight at the least opportune moment.
Full of anger and concern for Dragon, Bear lets his alertness slide for one single moment. In his world, one moment can be crucial, and so Bear is badly hurt and taken captive by members of another pack. Dragon manages to rescue him, but Bear’s wound is serious and likely to become infected, which can easily mean his death. In spite of Dragon’s almost superhuman efforts to keep Bear alive, they are quickly running out of luck. When an encounter with a bunch of cannibals leaves Dragon wounded and weak, too, they have only one chance left to them: Bear’s dream-visions must lead the Shanandoah pack to them, or they will both be dead.
Both Bear and Dragon were great characters. Despite the fact that both can kill without batting an eyelash, they are not without conscience. They do what is necessary for their own survival, and for the survival of the other. The latter becomes more and more important over the course of the story. Each of them would lay down his life for the other, as they would have for any of their former pack brothers before. But for Dragon, Bear would give up the wonderful life Shanandoah offers him in a heartbeat. Likewise Dragon would rather leave Bear behind than seeing him unhappy because of himself. Although they share a strong sexual bond and a “brotherhood” bond early on, the complete mutual devotion isn’t there from the beginning but grows over the course of their journey, marking a character development for both men which was completely believable and made them three-dimensional and authentic.
Another strength, at least to me, was the worldbuilding in itself. The author plays with place names and landmark descriptions which hint at which contemporary cities the story is set in, but keep the reader guessing. Is Shenandoah meant to be the actual Shenandoah valley, West Virginia, of our time, or is it a place as mythical as its name? Is Char meant to be Charleston, or Charlotteville, or someplace else entirely? For me, the point to dystopian stories is that they are told as if they actually could happen, although nobody knows if they will in the end. This point is perfectly made here, adding to the authentic feeling.
There were some minor niggles which kept this book from being a five-star-read. Too convenient was the solution to their problems in the end, and the way Dragon’s trial ended left a stale aftertaste with me. The way Dragon was portrayed before, I couldn’t quite buy him being content to be Bear’s tag-along instead of being fully accepted for himself by the people of Shenandoah. On the other hand, this offers a possibility for further conflict and thus for another sequel, which I’d be totally content with.
Shenandoah was a skillfully written, suspenseful adventure, full of highly erotic sex scenes and true emotions, set in a fascinating and dangerous post-apocalyptic world. Although the ending didn’t entirely satisfy me, it was authentic and believable and fit the two likeable and fully-fleshed heroes. I was reluctant to leave them behind and I’m looking forward to reading more of their adventures in the future.