I have become more than a little jaded in this era of teen-friendly pulp that focuses on vampires, werewolves, and the women who love them. That is my personal problem, but I think it highlights a larger conundrum faced by many an independent author. Namely, how does one tell new story within the fantasy genre while avoiding the production of yet another cliché?
In Susan Brassfield Cogan’s novel Black Jade Dragon, the author accomplishes something quite remarkable. She weaves elements that should be campy and trite into an exciting and fresh story. Cogan has managed to write a great novel about dragons, magic pearls, invisible swords, and a down-on-her-luck thief who beats the odds. This is a really fantastic book and well worth your money.
Black Jade Dragon tells the story of jewel thief Angela Tanaka (or Angie as she rather sternly instructs the reader to call her). Angie, as it happens, enters our lives shortly after completing a jewel heist. Don’t worry too much about that because it is really only a plot device used to propel her from Hong Kong onto the fictional island of Shaolong
Shaolong is where Cogan really captures the reader’s attention. We live in era where too many authors rely on serial adjectives to establish their locations. These long, eternal, unending descriptions are poor, unsatisfactory, irritating crutches used by many an un-skilled independent writer. Cogan, much to my delight, employs considerable skill in describing and establishing the island where her story takes place. Consider an example:
They towed us into a deep harbor with city on both sides. Now that we were closer I could see that the city was older and more traditional than Hong Kong or Taipei. The docks were lined with open markets that looked as they must have looked a thousand years ago. Tall modern buildings shadowed beautiful wooden pagodas settled in elegant gardens.
This is direct description that avoids flourish while quickly establishing the scene. Cogan has clearly given her little world a lot of thought, for she repeatedly describes interior and exterior locations with effective prose devoid of repetitive adjectives. Setting style aside, her descriptions are clear and effective. You will have no trouble seeing her world in your mind.
Angie the thief arrives in Shaolong and quickly finds herself blamed for a murder she did not commit. As if that was not accomplishment enough, she also manages to pick a murder involving dragons. These are, mind you, literal dragons and not some metaphorical creatures.
Chased by these awesome monsters, Angie must establish her innocence and recover a magic artifact before the occupants of Shaolong are killed in a fit of dragon pique.
Cogan executes this with creativity and wit. Her heroine is an enjoyable smart-ass who is (refreshingly) not blessed with the sort of superpowers high school boys dream about. She is capable in her own right, but out of her depth when in the company of dragons.
That observation leads to another. I found it particularly refreshing that the character of Angie was not written as a messiah all the other characters had been waiting for in order to save the day. Far from it, Angie is an outsider the insiders want to keep on the outside. The main characters do not want her around, and she happens to agree with them. When compelled to do so, she must force her way into the story and then seize control over it. There are far easier ways of writing a story.
Solving the mystery is a tall order for Angie, and writing it was a tall order for Cogan. I can report that she more than accomplished the task. The novel maintains an exciting pace that never loses its focus. Exposition is provided at just the right rate, and characters (particularly the dragons) are interesting. Ultimately, the reader becomes invested in Angie’s survival and in watching the story unfold.
Susan Brassfield Cogan has crafted a world where dragons are real, and clouds with silver linings are not good things. Black Jade Dragon tells a modern dragon story that is intelligent and exceedingly fun to read.
About the author: According to her official bio, Susan Brassfield Cogan is a full-time writer who occasionally amuses herself as a graphic designer. She has been at various times a nurse’s aid, a belly dancer, an actress, a journalist, and a radio shock jock. She is the author of many novels, including three novels in the Black Jade Dragon series. Her forthcoming book Little Wicked Things is described as a steampunk thriller and will be released in the Fall of 2014.
BLACK JADE DRAGON
By Susan Brassfield Cogan
Published by CoganBooks, Kindle price $0.99
Purchase on the Amazon Kindle Store