Review: Dragon Blood by Bruce Woods

Written by Seregil of Rhiminee (September 21, 2019) [Articles / Reviews]

Bruce Woods' Dragon Blood was published by Penmore Press in July 2019.

Information about Bruce Woods:

History with a Bite - Bruce Woods is a professional writer/editor with more than 30 years in magazine publishing, having worked as editor of Mother Earth News and Alaska Magazine, among others, and has published both nonfiction and poetry books. Prairie Schooner magazine featured his work in its “Writing from Alaska” issue. His Birdhouse Book, brought out by Sterling/Lark, is still in print and has sold more than 100,000 copies.

After leaving the editor’s position at Alaska Magazine in late 1998, Woods began a second career in External Affairs for the Alaska Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eventually serving as the de facto writer/editor for the agency’s largest region, as well as providing information and an initial contact point for state, national, and international media on topics affecting Alaska’s often controversial wildlife and land management issues, Woods retired in the spring of 2013 in order to focus on fiction writing.

In addition to the Birdhouse Book referenced above, Woods has published three nonfiction volumes and several books of poetry with small presses. During his magazine editing career he also served as editor/contributor to numerous nonfiction volumes. Several of his essays have been anthologized, as well.

Woods currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife Mary and his two cats, Lucy Fur and Boswell. Gardening and bicycling (the latter usually upon a single-speed road bike named “Yellow Snow” that he built from an old track frame bought online) are chief among his many interests outside of reading and writing. He has two children, Ethan, who studied music composition at Bennington College and now resides in Asheville, N.C., and his daughter Alice, who recently graduated from Minneapolis College of Art and Design and currently lives in Minneapolis.

Click here to visit the author's Facebook page.

Guest short stories by the author:

A Personal Bestiary
The Wearing of the Green
Swan Song
Spirited Away
Paulette and the Elephant
Without Sparkles
The Nearest Thing to Flying

Information about Dragon Blood:

Paulette is sent on a mission to China with the words of her mentor ringing in her ears. “A hot wind is now fanning the flames of racism in China, Paulette." Said Lady Ellen Terry. "And, like dust in a drought, it has blown up an army. They call themselves 'the boxers’ society of righteous and harmonious fists,' or some variation thereof, and practice rituals that they claim bestow invulnerability and more. They are ill-armed and poorly trained but potentially numberless.

“Recently an auxiliary movement has sprung up. Reportedly consisting of young virgin women, from the ages of 12 to 18 and accounted uncommonly beautiful. They carry the name “Red Lanterns,” and claim the powers of flight, fire-starting, and miraculous healing. It is these I wish you to investigate for any sign of Kindred activity.

“More to the point, however, and though the Boxers alone present a threat through sheer force of numbers, the Dowager is perched upon a knife edge. Two camps of courtiers vie for her attention, moderates who would have her eliminate the Boxers for fear that, with the foreigners gone, they would turn upon her throne; and conservatives who urge her to throw in her hand with them to rid the Empire off all peoples and technologies from beyond its borders.”

She is to face great danger and the very real risk that despite her remarkable powers she will not survive. It will take skill and courage to avoid the multiple perils, and risk of exposure for what she really is, that await her in an increasingly turbulent China.


Bruce Woods' Dragon Blood is the second novel in the Hearts of Darkness Trilogy, which tells of the adventures of the undead adventuress Paulette Monot. In Royal Blood, the author introduced this extraordinary woman to his readers and now he continues to write more about her life and her extraordinary adventures.

Dragon Blood is an excellent sequel to Royal Blood. Everybody who has read the first novel will feel immediately at home with the story. This novel is every bit as good as the previous novel, because the author has done his best to write an enjoyable and fast-paced story that will appeal to fantasy readers who enjoy dark and entertaining stories. The only difference between these novels is that this novel has a bit more depth, because the author broadens the scope of the story.

Just like Royal Blood, Dragon Blood is a thoroughly enjoyable combination of elements ranging from adventure and steampunk to history and supernatural lore. The author also offers his readers an intriguing and surprisingly insightful glimpse at Chinese culture and customs.

In case there are readers out there who are wondering if this novel can be read as a standalone novel, I can mention that it's possible to do so. You don't necessarily have to know anything about the previous novel to enjoy this novel, but you may get more out the story and its nuances if you're familiar with the previous happenings.

The story begins with Paulette responding to the summons of Lady Ellen Terry, who is the vampire Mistress of the City of London. She is now more experienced than before as she has learned the way of the world. Because her last assignment was successful, she is asked to take an errand that will take her to China. Lady Terry wishes Paulette to investigate young virgin women who call themselves "Red Lanterns" for any signs of Kin activity. Paulette is also asked to do what she can to assure that the extermination of foreigners fails and the Dowager Empress Cixi remains in power. Before her journey, Paulette has a lot to learn, because she is to pose as a local in China... On her way to China, Paulette meets Li-hua, who guides her and offers her advice. When Paulette arrives in China, she notices that danger will be a constant companion to her and there's a possibility that she may not survive...

I won't reveal more about the story, but I can mention that it is filled with adventure and excitement. Paulette's journey through China and her adventures among the Red Lanterns are well-realised. What Paulette experiences in China is entertaining and offers quite a lot of food for thoughts.

The characterisation is excellent, because the author paints a vivid picture of Paulette Monot. Paulette is a fascinatingly complex and multifaceted character. She is a vampire, but she is also a sensual woman who has needs of her own. When needed, she can be a coldblooded killer and will satisfy her hunger for blood in a ruthless way, but she also has a tender and erotic side to her. She's a liberated woman who works for the good of the world and does her best to carry out her assignments.

I enjoyed reading about what Paulette had to do in order to look like a Chinese woman and become "Jinyu Liu". Her tranformation is well-described and fascinating, because she has to endure quite a lot to look different. Her new looks give her the advantage of travelling unnoticed.

I also enjoyed reading about what happens between Paulette and Li-hua. Their relationship is interesting and sensual.

The supernatural and mythological elements are handled well. Without revealing any details about the story, I can mention that Paulette's encounters with the powerful fire spirit Huo and China's ancient guardian, Watatsumi, are simply thrilling and have a feel of awe and wonder to them.

The sex scenes fit the story, because they are bold and erotic. The author's explicit way of writing about sex and eroticism feels fresh, because he doesn't shy away from sexual elements.

I find the worldbuilding impressive, because the author pays attention to historical elements and writes effortlessly about the Victorian era and Chinese culture (the author combines fiction and history in a fresh way). The author's descriptions about Chinese way of life and the various places feel realistic. He fluently tells of how the great nation is in turmoil and what happens to people, because the atmosphere is volatile and trouble seems to brew everywhere. His vision of "the Boxers" - men who try to rid their land of foreigners - is exciting and violent, because he dares to explore dark themes.

I like the author's writing style, because his way of telling about the happenings has a fascinatingly light feel to it. He seems to have a talent for gripping storytelling, because the story is compelling and sufficiently fast-paced with exciting details that mesmerise the reader and enhance the reading experience. The story flows effortlessly and gathers momentum towards the ending, which is worth waiting for.

What I find perhaps most refreshing about this novel is that it's wholly different from other vampire fantasy novels. Although the story stays true to the genre's roots, it's satistyingly original, because the author has courage to venture outside the genre's normal conventions. This makes a big difference to the reader, because there are countless vampire novels that are pale clones of each other without any kind of creativity or originality (to be honest, I find most modern vampire fantasy novels more or less annoying and boring due to their focus on paranormal romance). It was wonderful to read this novel, because it has a good story and the author focuses on all the right things.

I believe that Dragon Blood will strike a chord among readers who are familiar with classic adventure stories and enjoy well-created vampire stories. It will also appeal to readers who love classic mystery stories and spy fiction, because Paulette has an errand to do and she has to disguise herself and travel to a new and strange country.

Bruce Woods' Dragon Blood is a highly enjoyable fantasy novel with plenty of creativity and a pleasing amount of originality. I can guarantee that Paulette's adventures will stay with you and you'll find yourself craving for more, because the story is immersive. If you enjoy reading fantasy adventures, this novel will offer you thrilling escapism and enjoyment.