Steal the Dragon (Sianim, #2) - Patricia Briggs "It's my turn to help steal something from them--from him"
Another find from my local used bookstore, I needed something light after an intensely horrible book.
Rialla had been a slave, but she escaped to the Sianim, a mercenary clan. Now, Ren, the leader of the clan, is having her leave with Laeth to protect Laeth's brother, Karsten, from death. But their mission changes drastically, threatening the safety of their lands.

I Liked:
Most of my experience in the fantasy genre has been Tolkein's works (and one Forgotten Realms book by Elaine Cunningham). On one hand, this is great, as I have little preconceived notions; on the other, I might get lost in typical fantasy fare.
Fortunately for the fantasy novice like me, Patricia Briggs wrote an easily accessible novel. I was fortunate to begin with as this wasn't a novel set in a huge series (such as the Wheel of Time or the Shannara) so that made it easy too. But Briggs writes her story very well, weaving it intricately, not forcing a million new terms down your throat. You learn locations as you go, instead of being force fed them in a huge narrative the beginning. The same goes with traditions, names, government, magic, Sylvans, and more. This made the story very enjoyable for me and easy to "fall" into.
Her characters were fascinating. There was a perfect amount for the length of the story. My favorites were Riallan, Laeth, and Tris (not many leftover from them though!).
In some ways, Rialla is a Mary Sue. She has red hair, green eyes, is empathetic, is good with animals, was a dancer, can fight, and becomes bonded to the healer, Tris. However, I felt her a sympathetic character and real, and not a Mary Sue at all. Her attractiveness makes sense if she were a dancing slave. As for being empathetic, Rialla wasn't even able to use her abilities to the fullest until a good ways through the book, and even then, she only gradually regained the use (she didn't just "find" the talent and know how to use it perfectly). This is also how she communicates with animals, which she does much better than with humans. Also, her purpose in the Sianim wasn't as a fighter, but a horse trainer (unfortunately, the book cover deceives one into thinking she's a swordswoman, which isn't quite true). When she fights, she uses her empathy more than her physical prowess. So, I thought she was real, interesting, a perfect combination of opinionated, strong-willed, yet tender and feminine. She was haunted by her past, which kept her from using her abilities to the fullest. And even then, her abilities do cause her to screw up.
Laeth is another amazing character! I so enjoyed how he wasn't Rialla's love interest, but a truly "brotherly" character. I liked how he retained his Darranian roots, yet behaved like a mercenary at times. His scenes with Rialla were amusing, his love for his brother palpable, and his longing for his brother's wife (who was, before his brother married her, his girlfriend) heart-wrenching. I wish he hadn't left midway through, though.
Lastly, Tris is highly unique! A slight departure from your typical prince charming (at least I thought), in that he was a huge, burly, bearded guy who hid among the villagers as a healer (not using his talents for big, grandiose things). Yes, he did develop a soft spot for Rialla, but it was well done, not rushed and made sense. I loved his actions, his defiance of the aristocrats, his at-times flagrant use of magic, and his bonding to Rialla. In fact, the romance between Rialla and Tris is muted and beautiful. A delicately woven blanket.
The story is very interesting too. Briggs sets us up for a typical scenario: Laeth and Rialla must keep Karsten alive. But things go very wrong very quickly (won't give away too many details) and now our heroes must figure out what to do next. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. Then the chase sequences...very on the edge of my seat!

I Don't Like:
While Briggs doesn't go overboard on Rialla's appearance, a few instances (namely Laeth saying "Couldn't you gain weight or change your hair to make you less attractive?") where it does become quite heavy handed. I also found Briggs had a tendency to forget to mention something in narration (like that Tris was shuddering from laughter; you only knew because Rialla brought it up in conversation, which was confusing for me). Similarly, Briggs glossed over the dances. I think she did this to shorten the book, but I felt that she ought to have done one really big scene with dancing (though I have no clue how to write one and she did, in a sense, when Rialla performs at Karsten's castle).
Another really petty gripe I have is the book cover: "Slave. Swordweilder. Spy. Some girls have all the luck." This is lame because A) when was slavery "lucky" or good? andB) Rialla was a horse trainer, not a swordweilder. Misleading.
Lastly, the end has a scene with the villain explaining his entire plan. I know, petty, but it does get tiresome after awhile.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Foul language includes fantasy words, b****, and "plague", which I found a realistic and unique spin on things.
Rialla was a slave dancer. Her garments, as well as others, are described as being scanty. Affairs are also circumspectly referenced as are copious other sexual references, some of which involve rape.
Someone is out to kill Karsten and is ultimately successful. While defending herself and others from a monster, Rialla is injured. The wound is said to take several days to heal. Tris kills another beast while rescuing Laeth from the guard tower.

Overall:
Amazing, truly amazing! I was not expecting this novel to be so good and I was pleasantly surprised. No, it's not highly complicated or intricate, but it is exciting and interesting, a good, quick read to take your mind away. 5 stars.