If you haven’t already heard the buzz about this book, we invite you to watch this video of the author briefly talking about her intimate approach to the fantasy genre, and reading a short excerpt. After the Dragons is a queer romantic fantasy novel which will be published by Stelliform Press on August 19th. The book is Cynthia Zhang’s first novel.
The video reading includes captions for those who prefer or require them and the full text of the excerpt is provided below.
It’s dark inside the store. A few dragons chirp in protest when Kai flips on the light, but the room is otherwise silent.
Kai glances around the shop, assessing the lines of cages and tanks. Then, without saying a word, he closes the door, slips his sketchpad under the front desk, and walks decisively toward the back of the shop.
After a moment of hesitation, Eli follows. “Do you want any help?” he asks as Kai slips a thick, leather glove over one hand.
“What, and have the whole shop escape? You can stand there, and if I need anything from the top shelves, you can take it down for me.”
“I think I can pull that off,” Eli says as Kai steps toward a cage in which a blue dragon sits atop a pile of rocks, preening the scales on its back. Compared to the tianlong Eli sometimes sees clustering on rooftops and stop lights, this dragon is larger and sleeker, the size of a hawk with a narrow chest and long curving wings. Feathery frills circle the dragon’s head, giving an appearance halfway between a lion’s mane and an Elizabethan neck ruff worn by a draconic poet.
Kai makes a high, clicking sound, and the dragon raises its neck toward him, imperious as a little monarch. “Hello to you too, your highness,” he says, unhooking the door and sticking his gloved hand inside. The dragon glances at the glove, then back up at Kai: and?
Rolling his eyes, Kai takes a dead mouse from one pocket and dangles it in front of the cage. The dragon cocks its head to one side, politely uninterested. “Oh, come on now,” Kai says, shaking his hand. “Cixi, baobei, piece of shit, don’t be like that —”
“Cixi? Like the empress?”
“Just like the empress,” Kai confirms, eyes intent on the dragon as she gingerly steps onto his wrist to take a bite — the smallest bite — of the mouse. “Almost as bad as the human one, too. Bossy little thing,” he says, carefully lifting his hand out of the cage, spindly dragon and all. “Isn’t that right, princess?”
In response, Cixi trills, licking her snout as she snatches the mouse and swallows it whole. Her eyes are tawny, and in the dim light, they gleam like gold coins against delicate whiskers and blue scales.
“She’s beautiful,” Eli says, leaning forward. “What is she?”
“A pain in the ass? Careful — this one does bite,” Kai warns as he hands Eli a strip of dried meat.
Eli offers it to Cixi, who sniffs the jerky before deigning to take it from him.
“In terms of breed, feilong, which goes a long way toward explaining the sense of superiority since they supposedly only appear to ‘great men’ in the wild.” Kai strokes her neck, Cixi leaning into the touch before snapping at his fingers. “Doesn’t do anything to explain the stubbornness or complete lack of manners.”
“Like owner, like dragon, maybe?”
Kai glances up, and for a second, Eli is unsure whether he’s earned the right to say what he did — but then Kai laughs, a short, surprised sound that turns into a wry smile. Eli can’t help smiling back. And then, with no warning whatsoever, Cixi swoops off Kai’s wrist and out the door, a glistening blue blur with Eli’s jerky between her teeth.
“Oh, fuck,” Kai mutters before sprinting after her.