Genre: Science Fantasy, Romance
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild
About The Book
Dragons were fire and terror to the Western world, but in the East they brought life-giving rain.
Now, no longer hailed as gods and struggling in the overheated pollution of Beijing, only the Eastern dragons survive. As drought plagues the aquatic creatures, a mysterious disease-shaolong, or “burnt lung”-afflicts the city’s human inhabitants.
Jaded college student Xiang Kaifei scours Beijing streets for abandoned dragons, distracting himself from his diagnosis. Elijah Ahmed, a biracial American medical researcher, is drawn to Beijing by the memory of his grandmother and her death by shaolong. Interest in Beijing’s dragons leads Kai and Eli into an unlikely partnership. With the resources of Kai’s dragon rescue and Eli’s immunology research, can the pair find a cure for shaolong and safety for the dragons? Eli and Kai must confront old ghosts and hard truths if there is any hope for themselves or the dragons they love.
After the Dragons is a tender story, for readers interested in the effects of climate change on environments and people, but who don’t want a grim, hopeless read. Beautiful and challenging, focused on hope and care, this novel navigates the nuances of changing culture in a changing world.
To be upfront about this: it is not really a romance, but it is a love story. That was plenty for me, although my soppy romantic heart wanted something more. Sometimes, the simple beauty of a story makes it satisfying, especially when it’s a first novel of this caliber.
Of course, it’s not really paranormal, either. Oh, there are dragons. Lots of dragons. But they’re treated in this lyrical, gentle novel with matter-of-fact detail, making them feel not just plausible but real. It is a brilliant conceit to consider these dragons as survivors of the great mythical creatures of China’s distant past, whittled down by human interference to bird-like creatures of exceptional beauty and grace. The author goes even further to give these modern-day dragons various species names, and cat-like personality traits. They are animals, but special ones.
The dragons are, however, simply the metaphorical framework, the hook that catches your sense of wonder and draws you in. The story is really about Eli, a research intern at Beijing University, and Kai, a recent dropout of the same great university, who devotes his life to caring for abandoned, abused, and otherwise feral urban dragons.
Eli is American, half-Chinese and half Black. He has dreams, a vision of his future; but he finds himself derailed by Kai and his passion for dragons. Kai is a symbol of the new China just as Eli symbolizes the new America. Both countries are flawed and self-deluding, but there is greatness, too. These young men—both about twenty-one years old—represent that greatness, that potential not yet realized.
Kai is gay in a country that is just beginning to accept it. Eli is mixed-race in a country just coming to terms with racial complexity. Eli’s optimism and belief in the power of science is contrasted with Kai’s cynical despair at the state of the world—trapped in the drought and pollution of the world’s greatest ancient city.
This is a straightforward narrative, giving the reader a vivid sense of contemporary life in Beijing. It is also a poetic metaphor for the world today, something that surprised me when it finally struck me. If there is a tag line for this book, it’s this: love conquers despair and offers hope.
And now I want a dragon.
Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.
Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.
By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City.
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