Heartless (Tales of Goldstone Wood #1) by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (2010)
Heartless has fairy-tale characters and motifs galore - strange otherworld beings, a princess waiting for her true love, a helpful, shape-shifting cat - and lots of dragons.
It begins in light-hearted, comedic fashion, though with a delicious hint of eeriness from the presence of the mysterious and forbidding Goldstone Wood, that lies beyond the palace grounds.
Princess Una is the leading lady of the story who is the object of matrimonial desire to a series of princes. But she is strong-willed and independent minded enough to give her heart to the one prince who is perhaps the most unsuitable.
The story begins to darken as it becomes apparent that Una is also the object of desire to an evil being who appears in the form of a black dragon; a dragon that would destroy everything and everyone she holds dear, and will be satisfied with nothing less than corrupting and consuming her own heart and soul. And it seems no one has the power to withstand such an evil force and save her.
There are hints of the George and the Dragon legend, echoes of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and a thoughtful exploration of the nature of evil, and of the power of sacrificial redemption to overcome it.
This is the first standalone novel in a series revolving round the mysterious Goldstone Wood, and I look forward to exploring Stengl’s fairy-tale world further in her other stories.