I love reading books that feel like something new. I don’t know about you, but, before reading Cynthia Zhang’s short novel After the Dragons (out August 19 from the wonderful Stelliform Press), I had never read a story that juxtaposed climate change, alienation, and chronic illness with adorable stray dragons and queer romance. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed the elegantly nuanced manner in which this book approaches its unique collection of plot points and themes.
After the Dragons performs a rather splendid balancing act. Great and global issues—climate change-induced drought and illness; humanity’s responsibility toward species at risk, including, but by no means limited to, humanity—both contrast and align with the small-scale personal issues that shape individual characters’ worlds: who am I; what do I truly want; what matters to me more than what I think others want from me; how can I learn to love someone in ways they can accept? This book holds space for things both terrible and tender as it explores the fragile and uneasy ground where boundaries between people lie.
This is a beautiful story, beautifully told. Zhang’s vivid, polished prose effectively pulls readers in and holds them close until the story is ready to let go. I enjoyed this book from beginning to end, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I volunteer as a first reader at Stelliform Press, and I received a free digital ARC of After the Dragons from the publisher. However, all opinions in this review are my own. Volunteering at a small press is a labour of love, in this case a love stemming from my admiration of both the Stelliform mission and the sheer quality of every book I have read from the press’s growing catalogue. While my thoughts on Stelliform’s books are unquestionably biased, this is a bias that comes straight from the heart.