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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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Shors, John: Dragon House

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

Dragon House is like John Shors's previous novels--Beneath a Marble Sky and Beside a Burning Sea--in that it is set in Asia and involves a romance, but those earlier books were historical novels (set respectively in the 17th century and during World War II) while this one takes place in the present day. The story begins with the death of a Vietnam veteran who spent the last years of his life working toward opening a center for street children in Ho Chi Minh City. After his death the man's daughter, Iris, takes up his mantle, moving to Vietnam with a childhood friend, Noah, who lost a leg and his spirit to a roadside bomb in Iraq. The book in fact centers more on Noah than Iris, as he finds redemption while trying to help a trio of Vietnamese children. Minh and Mai live on the street and survive by selling fans and gambling with tourists over a battered Connect 4 board. They're forced to surrender most of what they earn to Loc, an opium addict who controls them and who cut off Minh's arm years earlier to make him a more sympathetic beggar. Loc eventually emerges as the book's main bad guy, a threat to the children and to the Americans trying to help them. The other child whom Noah and Iris come to care about is Tam, who lives on the street with her grandmother and who is dying of cancer. Disease and poverty and hunger and apathy are the other villains of this story.

After a slow start, Dragon House has its exciting scenes, but it's not so much a thriller as a book with a message to get across. It's an assault on the reader's conscience. Shors certainly succeeds in engaging the reader's emotions--it's a tear-jerker of a book. But one feels manipulated as the author milks the story's heartbreaking scenes (of which there are many!) for all they're worth. The book can be annoyingly preachy as well when Noah complains about the Iraq War.

Dragon House isn't my favorite of Shors's books, but it's not a bad read. I'll be interested to see what the author writes next.

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