I really like the premise of this one - a human child is left as a sacrifice for a dragon who decides instead to raise her with her own brood. When eventually the dragon-girl is forced to return to the human world, the resulting collision of cultures is very funny. The author has clearly thought through all the ramifications of the situation - Lathmi eats raw meat, for instance, and is ultra-strong and scarred from growing up around creatures not only much bigger than her, but equipped with vicious claws and teeth. And she really thinks she IS a dragon!
The background world is the usual generic template - there are peasants grubbing around in the dirt, boorish and ignorant, and a sprinkling of cities, where the rich and powerful live in luxury, while the lower ranks live in abject poverty with a fairly easy-going attitude towards sanitation and the laws of property. So nothing very original there. It also leads to some fairly lazy plot devices - attacks by ruffians of one sort or another to create dramatic tension and push the story along. I've never understood quite why these fantasy worlds have to be so lawless - in reality, any world with so much corruption and violence would be unable to operate at all, or would devise means to deal with it. And outlaws would never fight to the death, as they so often do in books - they steal from those unable to fight back, and then retreat as soon as there's any real opposition.
Apart from all the outlaws, rogues and thieves, there is also a Big Bad, called the Dark One (now there's an original name), with a minion and a number of summoned demons as runarounds. I don't really see the attraction in world domination, myself, but it seems to be a popular ambition in fantasy. Fortunately there are some nice additional touches here - the demons are not just generic evil thingies, but actually have independent personalities and act on their own agendas.
The magic of this world isn't particularly original either. It's not clear to me whether magical ability has to be inborn, or can be acquired by anyone willing to learn, but there are various kinds of spells - the kind that involves drawing hexagrams on the floor, the kind that can be done just by mind-power and the kind that involves knowing the true name of things. There's a price to pay, too, so that spell-makers can use a great deal of energy, both mental and physical, and while using magic they are vulnerable to other sorcerers. This is fine. The problem with all this is that there seem to be few limits to what can be done, and sometimes it's all just too convenient. The plot requires the good guys to find out something about the bad guys? Let's have a dream-spell and go in disembodied form to his hide-out. Even though this was actually a lovely dramatic sequence, nicely done, it still felt like a bit of a cheat. And later on, when our heroes get into a bit of bother, they conveniently have a reason why they can't just whip up a spell or two and escape. This is always a problem with magic, though, but here I don't feel the author quite makes the constraints convincing enough.
Behind all this rather unoriginal surface, however, is an interesting story of two species, both intelligent and resourceful, with their own cultures, beliefs and lifestyles. The dragons in this book are not cute or anthropomorphic, they are fearsome creatures with a different way of looking at the world. The humans are not exactly civilised, and both sides have their share of aggression and intolerance. Lathmi is caught between the two worlds, neither one thing nor the other, and although she eats raw meat with her bare hands, she has her own measure of wisdom and is not the barbarian the humans mistake her for. This dichotomy raises all the difficult questions: how much of so-called civilisation really matters anyway? what's the good of table manners when it's not safe to walk the streets? and the ultimate question, what does it really mean to be human?
The author isn't afraid to address those questions head on, and she also has the courage to follow her characters and their difficulties to their logical conclusions. So sometimes they fail, they get hurt, they get angry and frustrated, they make stupid decisions or mistakes and sometimes, when faced with insuperable odds, they may die. So far, so good. Apart from Lathwi herself, the other main characters - Pieter the trapper, Liselle the sorcerer, Jamus the lady's man, and Pawl the swordsman - are all nicely drawn and sympathetic. And of course the dragons are terrific characters in their own right. The minor characters are less interesting, and the bad guys - well, I've never been a big fan of irredeemable evil. I also wasn't much fussed about the idea that all the ruffians, mercenaries and so on were 'Southerners', but it seemed logical that the uneducated peasants were a superstitious bunch, willing to sacrifice the odd virgin for good fortune.
There are quite a few minor typos and grammar issues, but nothing overwhelmingly awful, and on the whole the writing is fine. The final chapters were a bit of a muddle of dragons, demons, mercenaries and magic, so that it was hard sometimes to work out quite what was going on, but happily the author wasn't afraid to take difficult decisions and managed to avoid the sugar-sweet ending. Of course, the magic was a bit convenient, but I very much liked that the final confrontation was largely a question of female strength and spirit. The character of Lathmi was very well conceived and executed from beginning to end, and the dragons are wonderful, both endearing and also entirely alien. A very readable, entertaining story with plenty of action, let down only by an uninspired set of villains and a rather too unlimited version of magic. Three stars.