Lee, Mary Soon, 2015, Crowned, The Sign of the Dragon: Book 1, cover
and interior illustrations by M. Wayne Miller, Dark Renaissance
Books, darkrenaissance.com, trade paperback, perfect bound, ISBN
978-1-937128-74-6, 171 p., $16.95.
This is a novel in verse, though each chapter is a poem. There are 61
poems in Crowned, and more than 100 already written for
Crowned is the story of King Xau, who becomes king in the
first poem. He is the youngest of four princes in a small kingdom
that might be a part of what would one day become China. Xau becomes
king because the future king must survive meeting a particular
dragon. He is the only one of the four princes who is humble enough
and brave enough to pass the test.
She landed beside him, her breath ash,
snow steaming from her wings.
He knelt, but did not beg,
and asked after his brothers.
“One slept. One fought. One pissed
himself. They didn't taste like kings.”
There is a princess, but in Xau's world, most princesses are married
off to royals from other kingdoms. Xau hasn't done that to his
sister, at least not by the end of this first book.
From “Not So,” which appears early in the book:
Mei wanted to ask
whether she, too, would be married
to someone she'd never met;
two months ago
she would have asked.
Now, not so.
A lot of the book is about warfare, but many poems are about family
life, Xau taking care of his people, and so one. Crowned does
an excellent job of showing what it might be like to be a medieval
Chinese king. We also learn about the lives of soldiers, guards,
courtesans, and more.
From “Thirty-eighth War Between Innis and Meqing: Second Battle”,
from a soldier's viewpoint:
Went back with Finn and a shovel.
Found the captain's body,
blood-sodden, eyes staring upward.
Brennan pulled the captain's eyes shut,
but they wouldn't stay closed.
Took turns digging with Finn.
Neither of them about
to let the captain
be buried in a heap
These are all good poems. They stand on their own, even though in
most cases it's clear that you are looking at a small part of a much
longer story. The overall tale is very good too. It reads well as a
sequence of poems and is easy to follow, partly because the poems are
Lee confesses, at the end of Crowned, that Xau seems too
perfect, but I don't think so. He is idealized, to be sure, but not
in a smarmy way, as if the book had been written by a troubadour
trying to curry favor. It's more like he really is that good,
like Gordon Dickson's super Dorsai, Donal Graeme.
I really love Crowned. You gotta buy it.
Full disclosure. I have bought several poems from Lee for Dreams
and Nightmares magazine, and one of them is in this book.
a blessed change
shortening my days or
so say medicos who ought
to know, though health fads blunt my trust
reading a good book doesn't help me
but what aid comes from staring at the clock