Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacEvoy

Tea with the Black Dragon

Publisher: Open Road Media

Publication date: September 9th 2014 (in e-book form, the novel was published in print form in 1983)

When I happen across a book that mixes one of my favorite genres with Chinese history and culture I can’t help but read it. Problem is that, given that China is my professional field, I’m also nitpicky.

There are many things I like in Tea with the Black Dragon but I would have liked it better if some little things had been different.

I loved the fact that both main characters are middle-aged (it isn’t that common to have people over 50 as the main characters in fantasy), I also like the old-fashioned feeling I got from the style (the book was first published in 1983 but, had I not known, I would have said it was older). it is not that it feels outdated, far from it, but the vocabulary is richer that the usual fare of ‘modern’ fantasy novel (although not pretentious or purple), and the prose has a more leisurely pace, it isn’t slow but alternates action sequences with more meditative, quiet moments.

I also like the zen snippets and the fact that the moment of revelation for Mr. Long felt like an echo from a famous quote by Gertrude Stein.

What I don’t like too much is Mr. Long himself, the black dragon of the title. It feels to me like the author portrayed him like a transformed Chinese dragon but was hazy about what a Chinese dragon really is and how it differs from an European one.

I cringed at Mayland Long’s disconfort on being on the water, for instance, and at the hints in the book about his links with fire since Chinese dragons are known for being water-spirits in control of the rain, rivers, lakes and even the sea itself.

There are also scattered references to gold and hoarding, but Chinese dragons aren’t hoarders sitting on piles of gold, they are custodians of treasures and give them freely to deserving humans.
Mayland Long tells of finding himself in human shape after a night-long vigil over the body of a dead hermit, fact is that in Chinese stories dragons have two shapes, they can appear either as dragons or as humans, at will, the nasty surprise for Mayland should have been finding himself trapped in human shape, not having one.

I feel I can recommend this one only to readers that won’t be bothered by the sloppy research on what should have been one of the main elements of the book, for a way better MacAvoy (at least in this reviewer’s opinion) read the Damiano series instead.

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