Review – DRAGON – Saladin Ahmed and Dave Acosta

DRAGON is a graphic novel authored by Saladin Ahmed, with art by Dave Acosta and colors by Chris O’Halloran that revisits the story of Vlad Dracula’s timeless evil. It approaches the “classic” Dracula story from an angle I’d never seen before (this isn’t rich British people and a Dutch doctor striving to keep a creeping predator from London). This puts at it the heart of its setting the historical interplay between Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Dating back to Bram Stoker, tales of Dracula look west, rather than interrogating the very real interactions between Dracul and the Muslim world to its east. Not so in DRAGON.

Adil is a Janissary commander who has fallen from grace in the wake of enduring the trauma of Dracula’s violence. He finds common cause with Sister Marjorie, a Catholic nun who is also forced from her place in her convent by Dracula’s evil. A third compatriot, another man who exists in the margins travels and who doesn’t fit in the religious or social expectations of the circles where he travels, joins Adil and Marjorie in their task to confront Dracula and end us reign of terror.

In particular, Adil and Marjorie stand out as interesting lenses into their societies as this isn’t Jonathan Harker secure in his societal position working with other men mostly unaffected by Dracula’s predation save for the pain caused over Lucy’s demise. No, Adil suffers from obvious PTSD and seeks some degree of solace in alcohol. When Marjorie’s sister in the convent is murdered by Dracula and Marjorie somehow survives and ends the threat of a risen vampire, she falls under suspicion and is driven from her home. Both Adil and Marjorie’s lives are more or less ruined simply by being exposed to, but not directly victims of, Dracula’s evil.

(The third character deserves a similar analysis, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will defer).

Interesting character and quest origins aside, the book coalesces onto the path you might expect, team up, travel to evil castle, kill Dracula. It is a satisfying adventure with a grisly tension that held me in place from page 1 to the end.

The tension is due, in no small part, to the fantastic art. When an ambush kills an unsuspecting victim, there is no sanitized death–an arrow pierces the poor man’s throat and we are made to confront the visceral, disgusting, violence. The supernatural evil is rendered in vivid, horrifying, detail–this is no sparkly vampire type of a style. Similarly, the colors are dark, saturated, and lend a sense of foreboding to the entire experience.

If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it. I say “if you can find a copy” because this project came about after a successful Kickstarter. I just received the digital copy (which is the copy I read for this review), and as I set out to write this I wanted to put a link to purchase… but I can’t find one. The Kickstarter includes this language:

“This will be a lavish book, published as a Kickstarter exclusive. An oversized, slipcovered deluxe format hardcover printed on high quality paper and crammed with extras from creators’ notes to concept art to script and pencil pages.

There are currently no plans to release DRAGON in trade paperback or digital. For now, this special event hardcover is the only way to experience the story!”

So, assuming we’re taking the creative team at their word, I’m not sure where to point you to pick up a copy. I hope that at some point the team makes this available in a more widely-distributed format, because it was a great read.

Review – Bone Shard Daughter, by Andrea Stewart



Andrea Stewart has created an exceptional world with compelling characters, and one that pulls you forward with the questions it asks and implies from the very first page. It’s absolutely worth reading and Stewart is absolutely a writer worth following.

This book is built on a flotilla of mysteries. Whether it’s the long-dead magical race whose artifacts dot the world (and which may or may not be awakening), whether it’s magic powers and magic animals, amnesia and a castle of locked doors, missing loved ones, or what seems to be an existential environmental threat looming over it all, there is no shortage of questions being asked. Ultimately, the vibrant cast of characters seeking answers drive the story and what answers they do (and don’t) find leave me excited to read book two.

The setting feels organic, lived-in, natural. I found simple flourishes like a meal shared among family or the bartering for melons to reveal a culture that is believable and paints color onto the world Stewart has created.

Also, the magic system is unique, visceral, and leaves so much room to explore in future volumes that I cannot wait to see where it goes next. Luckily, Book 2 is poised to release soon.

Pick up a copy from your local Indie bookseller, or from Amazon if you must.

The Bone Shard Daughter – Bookshop.org
The Bone Shard Emperor – Bookshop.org

The Bone Shard Daughter – Amazon
The Bone Shard Emperor – Amazon

Review – The Urashima Effect – E. Lily Yu

I only just saw this 2013 story recently, and it’s the kind of story that… lingers. It’s short, only a little over 3,000 words, and worth every one of them.

E. Lily Yu published “The Urashima Effect” in Clarkesworld, where it is available to read right this instant and you’d be a fool not to do so.

The story takes place in two parts. Primarily, a researcher and solo advance landing party for an interstellar colony wakes up from deep sleep and acclimates to his environment as the ship begins decelerating from relativistic speeds. The second part of the story is the recordings that the researcher’s wife left for him to pass the time during his deceleration, which tell a folktale that carries much more of a message that mere entertainment.

As I said, it’s the kind of story that lingers. It’s precisely the kind of cerebral, soulful, SF that I love, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Review – Beneath Ceaseless Skies – 322

Beneath Ceaseless Skies January 28, 2021 issue features The Guadalupe Witch from Josh Rountree (twitter and website) and Her Black Coal Heart a Diamond in My Hand from R.K.Duncan (twitter and website).

The Guadalupe Witch is short, punchy, and cuts straight at the heart of sacrifice, desperation, and the prices we are willing to pay for loved ones and for magic. It’s got a wonderful weird-west setting and vibe that is subtle but effective, and there’s a sedate but inexorable pace to the story that keeps building tension to the climax. It’s a fast read and absolutely worth your time.

Her Black Coal Heart a Diamond in My Hand paints a bleak picture of a world where ghosts are the materiel for a artist’s mad art installation. He endeavors to shed light on the exploitation and desperation of lower classes while defining the gulf between the stories of those spirits displayed in the exhibit, and those doing the viewing. As R.K.Duncan takes us on this journey, we are presented with a window into how making art can shed light on plight, and how shedding that light might affect the artist. We are asked what the cost of telling stories that might not be ours to tell might be (costs to the teller, and to those whose stories are plundered). And, along the way we experience a story told with visceral and surreal language with magic that is numinous and always drifting just outside our grasp, unable to be clearly defined, yet full of concrete details that pin it in place. R.K.Duncan asks a lot of the reader in this story, but rewards us in doing so.

Review – The Raven Tower

The Raven Tower: Leckie, Ann: 9780316388696: Amazon.com: Books

Ann Leckie‘s fantasy is a wild new spin on Hamlet and the revenge story. This book takes risks with structure, some of it is delivered in second person, others first person, the narrative bounces between a god and the right-hand of the prince who is the one seeking his birthright, and his revenge.

It’s a complicated story, with a complicated structure. It challenges the reader to interrogate perspectives, conceptions of gender, society, and divinity, and it asks questions about the relationship of humanity to divinity. This isn’t the proverbial popcorn movie, but it was exceptionally well-crafted.

If it sounds good to you, check it out. If you’ve got a local independent bookseller, please give them your business in this difficult time. If it works, try using the Bookshop link, which tries to support independent booksellers. If your local library has it on the shelf, support libraries!

If Amazon is the what works for you to get books in the pandemic, use Amazon, that’s okay too!

Bookshop:

The Raven Tower

Powell’s:

The Raven Tower

Amazon:

The Raven Tower