Here Be Dragons by June Harris is the story of Jessalyn Kirke, a girl who seems to have all the bad luck in the world but who is able to take on every turn of events as it comes. Due to unfortunate family circumstances, Jessalyn travels from England to the island of Tobago to escape her past and start over. Less a passenger and more a prisoner after rejecting the advances of one not so kind (or attractive) captain, Jessalyn reaches the island after having suffered at the hand of the captain’s bruised ego during the month-long journey across the Atlantic. Once she arrives in Tobago, a kind soul recognizes her true value, although not all of it, and helps her begin her life on the island in a way that she could never have imagined. This new life offers danger, mystery, and romance, but it also contains a glimmer of hope, something with which Jessalyn has little experience.
I like the title of the book and understand how it fits with the story, especially given the epigraph. The cover, although it is bright and sure to catch the attention of readers, could have had a bit more to do with the story. While dragons may be appropriate, they are in idea only, not literally, and the literal depiction of the dragon has nothing to do with the story at all.
Once readers get into the book they will discover that June Harris has succeeded in creating a well-developed female protagonist. Jessalyn is intelligent, she is thoughtful, and she does not fall victim to the feminine wiles that other characters in similar books so often resort to; she is a very likeable character because she seems real. Her actions reflect a strong woman, not a damsel in distress. In fact, all of the characters are well-developed, though some are more dimensional than others. Harris has done a fabulous job at creating her cast.
The actual writing of the story is well done, and readers will be able to appreciate Harris’ talent with the written word. However, this talent is overshadowed by the fact that the manuscript could not possibly have been looked over by a professional editor, as the typos and grammatical errors abound– to the point of being distracting. This frustrated me to no end, because had the story been polished it would have been a gem. This seems to be a common issue with self-published books (the book was published by iUniverse) and is one that can easily be corrected if writers would simply utilize the services of editors. Unfortunately, many authors are not aware of the true value of a professional edit– which is well worth every penny.
Harris spent a great deal of time researching the historical era about which she writes, and her efforts are apparent. The time comes to life on the pages as she describes the intricate details of plantation life in the West Indies. The ways in which Jessalyn is treated, both in England and in Tobago, reflect the different social climates in the two countries and clearly illustrate the struggles of plantation owners and their wives to accustom themselves to life in a foreign place. Naturally, many aspects of English society are practiced on the island of Tobago, but the incorporation of native beliefs and traditions is an interesting addition to the text. Also, this acceptance of the native culture by Jessalyn and her employers further illustrates how different they are from the rest of the British planters.
Overall, Here Be Dragons is a great read that will keep audiences engaged despite its typos. The characters are wonderful, the plot is well developed, and the writing itself is highly enjoyable.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.