The Dragon is the second half of the original 1963 hardcover edition of Jane Gaskell’s The Serpent, which in turn is the first part of the Atlan series. Publishers, am I right? Let’s call it book two of the Atlan series and move on.
Thanks to the tumultuous events towards the end of the previous instalment, Cija is on the run. She manages to hide in plain sight, as her friend Smahil’s lover. Smahil insists on making this pretense real. It’s probably for the best that Cija does not know that Smahil is her half-brother.
Despite her best efforts, Cija’s path crosses that of Zerd, the very would-be conqueror of Atlan she is trying to avoid. Worse, she manages through no fault of her own to overhear what she believes is the secret formula that will allow Zerd’s forces to circumvent Atlan’s deadly vacuum barrier. Even worse than that, she is discovered by Zerd immediately after her unintended eavesdropping.
Cija eludes Zerd, stows away on a handy boat, and remains hidden long enough to reach a city of debauched clerics. The clerics revere Cija’s biological father, who is a High Priest back in Cija’s homeland. For a time, Cija finds refuge in the community of ecclesiastical voluptuaries.
Cija’s humanitarian instincts sabotage her. Not only is she compelled to assist a bandit languishing in the local dungeon, the priests come to the conclusion that she is an enemy agent. Desperate to buy safety, she offers the priests the formula she overheard.
It is immediately rejected as manifestly false. Too bad for Cija, because if she does not find something they will accept as atonement, the priests will flay her alive.
The people of this world are entirely unfamiliar with the concept of consent. Even when Cija wouldn’t necessarily mind having sex with the men she meets, her feelings don’t matter to the outcome. How odd that this has never been made into an HBO series.
Cija is convinced that she is descended from the gods, having been assured of this through her short life. Of course, she was also assured men were all extinct and look how that turned out. Whatever the actual facts of the matter, Cija is generally contemptuous of people from “lesser” races, especially mixed-race people. Even though there is little evidence that Cija is at all superior. Unless she’s superior at jumping from one predicament to another.
Two years have passed since Cija was sent on her mission to kill Zerd. She still seems like a naïf, just as she did when younger. This is odd, as virtually everyone she meets is a villain of some degree or other. You think she would have learned. She compounds her propensity to disaster with her cluelessness. She spends a lot of time running from people who are not inclined to kill her into the arms of people who are.
This book was a bit of a slog. Cija was so damnably dim! Despite that, she ends the book as an empress. There are three more books in the series, two of which star Cija (the final one features her daughter, an all together sharper pencil). If you’re curious where Cija goes from empress, wait a few weeks until I get to book three, Atlan.
The Dragon is out of print.