Chasing the Dragon
Chizine Publications, 2010
Chasing the Dragon is yet another fine bit of fiction released by the folks at Chizine Publications. This short novella features a modern twist on the heroic legend of St. George and the Dragon. The title character of Chasing the Dragon is Georgia Quincy, the latest and potentially last, in a long line of ancient dragon slayers stretching as far back as the Summerian Marduk (slayer of Tiamat) and including other such luminaries as Sigfried (slayer of Fafnir) and Thor (slayer of Jörmungandr), amongst countless more. Indeed as her father’s Book of Ascalon reveals all of these tales are in truth a retelling of the same tale over and over again.
As I mentioned Chasing the Dragon is a short novella, a pocket-sized book clocking in at 135 pages. It reads fast but its brevity and machine gun pacing belie the surprising depth of the world that Kaufmann manages to evoke. By tying his tale into a network of history and legend Kaufmann manages to lend an added layer of depth to his world without any lengthy exposition. Flashbacks to Georgia’s youth and experiences with her father provide both needed background and help enhance the tragedy that forms the foundation of her character and heroic role.
For those more in the know than myself (and who pay attention to cover art!), and something that is revealed later in the novel, the phrase chasing the dragon caries a double meaning: looking for the next high. For Georgia the drug of choice is heroin which she uses to hide from the horrific dream visions the rampaging dragon sends her as she sleeps and which somehow combats the entropy and decay from the horrible wounds the dragon’s claws left on her person. Georgia’s heroin addiction adds a fascinating layer to the structure of Chasing the Dragon. On the one hand it is a crutch and Achilles heel and on the other it is a valuable weapon in her fight and it leaves the reader constantly wonder if her addiction will kill her before the dragon does (or aid the dragon in killing her) or if it’s dulling effect on the dragon’s effect on her will be the slight edge she needs to overcome her nemesis. Furthermore there is the unspoken question Georgia’s addiction raises about what it is we’re seeing in the novel. Particularly early in the novel I found myself wondering just how much of what Georgia was experiencing was real and how much was warped perception from her drug use.
The dragon of Chasing the Dragon isn’t your average run of the mill dragon either. Kaufmann’s dragon is a shape changer, a herald of death and decay, whose wounds don’t just kill you but also turn you into a walking puppet of the dragon’s will. It’s nice change of pace and adds a neat horror element to the story. While some might complain about the zombie element being a bit played out I certainly found Kaufmann’s take to be surprisingly fresh and the dragon an absolutely terrifying creation.
Chasing the Dragon is a taught, superbly written tale falling somewhere in the middle of urban fantasy and horror that manages to defy most if not all of the convention familiar to those genres. My only complaint being that I want more. Kaufmann has primarily published short fiction and his only other book length work is his entry to the Gabriel Hunt series (Gabriel Hunt at World’s End). My struggle with short fiction is well documented so pardon me for hoping that Kaufmann tries his hand some more novel-length works. For those looking for something new, different and exciting I highly recommend giving Chasing the Dragon a try.