When a powerful viceroy arrives with a fleet of mechanical dragons and stops an attack on Anlei’s village, the villagers see him as a godsend. They agree to give him their sacred, enchanted River Pearl in exchange for permanent protection—if he’ll marry one of the village girls to solidify the alliance. Anlei is appalled when the viceroy selects her as a bride, but with the fate of her people at stake, she sees no choice but to consent. Anlei’s noble plans are sent into a tailspin, however, when a young thief steals the River Pearl for himself.
Knowing the viceroy won’t protect her village without the jewel, she takes matters into her own hands. But once she catches the thief, she discovers he needs the pearl just as much as she does. The two embark on an epic quest across the land and into the Courts of Hell, taking Anlei on a journey that reveals more is at stake than she could have ever imagined.
Continuing with the trend for Asian inspired #ownvoice fantasy; this time with added dragons, this book had all the hallmarks of a perfect read for me. However, it was a story I struggled with. Stronger than a Bronze Dragon isn’t a bad book, far from it – it just didn’t bring much new to the table for the genre. The only proper standout point was the steampunk element which was unexpected and gave a much needed extra layer to the story. So let’s start with that. Although we are far from a contemporary setting the wonderfully crafted mechanical dragon ships give a background of creativity and industry. The cyborg soldiers adding a sci-fi twist to this world of cogs and wheels. The world building has a high attention to detail and I have to say that the author does a good job of balancing both a character and plot driven story points, a rare feat.
Anlei as our protagonist though, was a difficult character for me to get on with. Depending on how you feel about particular tropes, readers will either love her feisty, fighting, no holds barred persona. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll find her constant need to put herself and her own sense of justice first frustrating, especially given the amount of people relying on her; literally all the time. For this reason I struggled to connect to her character – she just never learnt from what came before and she lacked any real depth. Tai on the other hand couldn’t have been more different, I enjoyed his character immensely, so much secrecy around him and so many layers to his character. He had a great story arc and I found myself actually enjoying his cheesy one liners and light hearted approach to even the darkest of scenarios.
The narrative however did feel clumsy at times, some sections seemed very laborious, yet sections full of mystery and action felt like they were over in a blink. There is to a degree too many things in play at the same time and not much felt like it was covered in a satisfying way. I just don’t know if there were too many ideas in the story for them to really be given full justice in a standalone setting. Honestly, I thought that the Dragons would play a bigger part too. I appreciate that there were elements of this that maybe were just not my cup of tea, or maybe I’ve just read too much of this sub genre recently but there just wasn’t enough to make me think wow about the story sadly.