Review # 8: After the Dragon by Sarah Monette

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Feb 4, 2010 in Reviews |

Author Website: www.sarahmonette.com
Published by Fantasy Magazine, January 25th, 2010

The Story:

Megan had a run-in with a dragon that left her with one good eye, one good hand, one good breast, and a heart scarred worse than her burnt flesh. She hates life. She hates everybody, including the doctors and nurses helping her to rehabilitate. Her mother’s trying to be useful, flitting around Megan’s hospital bed, doing all those things a good mother does — except looking at Megan like she’s still a real person.

The dragon that nearly killed Megan was the second to strike American soil that year, the 177th overall. Upon its death, its flesh and bones returned to their mineral state, and Megan’s dragon left a pool of glass along the sandy Oregon beach where five others had perished. Megan wishes more than anything that she’d been the sixth, but for better or worse, she’s a survivor.

The Craft: Beginnings

SPOILERS

The story opens with despair, Megan in a nondescript hospital room, waiting to die. A counselor offers some grief therapy options, and immediately Megan becomes hostile, showing the burned side of her face. She feels like she’s being dehumanized. These first three (short) paragraphs do a lot of work. We get a little bit of setting and genre — assuming the dragon is literal at this point, but this is from Fantasy Magazine, so it’s probably a good assumption. There’s a lot of insight into Megan’s state of mind. She’s clearly at her wit’s end, snapping at people without provocation, though she’s quick to justify it in her own mind. What hooks me is the mention of the dragon and the question it puts in my mind of how Megan ended up burned by it. Megan’s character doesn’t immediately hook me — her outburst almost feels like she’s keeping the reader at arm’s length too, but she seems real, and that’s enough for me to keep reading.

In the next few scenes we learn more about Megan’s encounter with the dragon, a very visceral description of how it had mangled her body, and how upon death, dragons revert to their mineral form. These two very important points set up the reality that Megan’s living in, clearly not our own. There’s a lot of good visuals here, with the iron and quartz and obsidian bones, as well as the glass that I saw so clearly in my mind. They’re haunting images, images I found myself going back to while reading the story. Despite the hideousness of its creation, it’s beautiful at the same time, which sets up one of the themes running through the piece.

And finally, we get some sense of Megan’s past, what she was before the incident — a blonde surfer girl who hadn’t been able to live up to her mother’s expectations even when she was whole. Now Megan has to deal with her mother refusing to see who she’s become post-dragon, and Megan’s having a hard time figuring that out herself. Good mother-daughter conflict is set up here. We can see that Megan has a long road ahead of her, and she’s obviously not going to be getting much emotional support from her mother. The tone of this is on the dark, emotional, angsty side, not something I readily relate to, but nothing offended me either. As an opening, it’s done everything it needs to, leaving me with a bunch of questions I want answered, and the only way I’m going to get them is to keep reading. Mission Accomplished.

The middle and ending come logically from this opening. Megan struggles with her identity after her reconstructive surgery, and there’s a poignant scene where she smashes her bathroom mirror so she doesn’t have to look at what’s in it. But she doesn’t throw the pieces away. Instead, she puts them back together in sort of a mosaic fashion, giving the reader a little hope that Megan will find her beauty again, even if it’s not the beauty she once had. And when she befriends a heavily tattooed breast-cancer survivor at the gym, Megan finally starts piecing together a way to learn to love herself.

On first read, this story didn’t do much for me, mostly because I had a hard time dealing with the angst thing, but boy, ten minutes later, it just hit me like a truck. It’s a very moving piece, well-written, well thought out. Awesome beginning.

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