Popular library, 1988, 500 pages, C$4.95 mmpb, ISBN 0-445-20349-8
It’s the sacred duty of every conscientious book reviewer to steer other readers toward books they might otherwise have missed. This duty becomes even worse, attaining messianic proportions, whenever the reviewer has also missed the book when it first come around.
And, boy oh boy, has everyone missed The Dragon Never Sleeps. Prior to recently reading a great review of it in a magazine (a review of the French translation of the book, no less!), I had never even heard of the novel, and in fact still associated Glen Cook only with that “Black Company” fantasy series.
Fortunately, the local Ottawa Public Library had a copy of Cook’s The Dragon Never Sleeps on its shelves (along with a few other books, which finally made me realize this was the same Glen Cook of the “Wizard” fantasy/comp.sci. series) so I could comfortably check for myself whether that rave was deserved or not.
In short; Bring back the book in print right now, it’ll sell thousands.
Any attempt at a plot resume would be cause for headaches for both reviewer and reader, involving such classic space-operatic props as family clans, galaxy-spanning empires, aliens, space battles, clones and political intrigue. Add a dastardly plan to destroy the galactic social order, gigantic space stations, decantable military personnel, some weird sex and age-old secrets and you’re in intensely familiar territory.
But it’s all handled so well that you’d swear you’re reading new-millenial SF with its methodical re-use of all possible established conventions, with an extra helping of rational weirdness. The novel hasn’t aged a bit, an iota, a single little particle since 1988. Read it today, and you’ll think of Banks, Alastair Reynolds or Stephen Baxter. It’s quite a remarkable feat.
Granted, this isn’t an easy novel to digest. The cloned versions of four characters alone almost add up to half the Dramatis Personae, and they’re seldom differentiated. It’s a fun novel to read, but it’s also devastatingly easy to miss a few crucial lines. The narrative is so dense that the information most probably won’t ever be repeated. And yet, unlike some other hard-to-read novels you might have tried, the style is not difficult or complex; it’s the sheer density of plotting that will trip you up.
The first hundred pages won’t help, as you’re boldly thrown in a brand-new universe that doesn’t have a previous trilogy as a world-building crutch; you’ll have to assimilate all information on the fly, even as complex events are already set into motion. At least you won’t be able to predict what’s going to happen: The body count starts early and rarely eases up. It would be a sacrilege -and an undeserved marketing blurb- to compare The Dragon Never Sleeps to Dune, but… there are similarities.
It all adds up to a darn good space opera. Vivid space battles are sprinkled throughout the book. Breathtaking betrayals abound. Grand concepts are revealed. Big fun for all, as long as you’re still following what’s happening. Plus, hey, it’s got a trilogy’s worth of material between two covers; you have to like that!
In short, I liked it a lot, and if you can find the book, I don’t doubt that you’ll enjoy it too. It should be reprinted soon, if Cook’s current popularity -and vocal fan-base- is any indication. A little gem overlooked by most critics upon its release, The Dragon Never Sleeps deserves a good look. Certainly, I plan on re-reading it in a few years, just because I’ve got the feeling I’ve missed out on so much!