cover image After the Dragons

After the Dragons

Cynthia Zhang. Stelliform, $19.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-77709-174-3

Zhang’s quiet, Beijing-set romantic fantasy debut kicks off when Afro-Chinese-Amerian Elijah “Eli” Ahmed, an intern at Beida’s Department of Immunology, goes to a back-alley dragon fight. There, he meets Xiang “Kai” Kaifei, a college student who rescues stray dragons in his spare time. Kai is terminally ill with shaolong, the lung disease that killed Eli’s grandmother. When Eli finds a way to get the university involved in the care and keeping of Kai’s rescue dragons, who act charmingly like stray cats, the men begin to grow closer. Their meandering romance unfolds gently as Eli comes to terms with his sexuality and tries to help the stubbornly self-sufficient Kai, who does not want charity or to be defined by his illness. The stakes are almost nonexistent, and the lack of action may disappoint readers who expect contemporary fantasy to contain more plot than just a leisurely love story set against a magical backdrop. Those looking for a tender, mild escape, however, will appreciate the space Zhang leaves for introspection as the men’s feelings grow. Sweet, slow, and lightly speculative, this is sure to find an audience. [em](Aug.) [/em]