Snow in the Year of the Dragon, by H. Leighton Dickson – Book Review by Fred Patten, who was born in the Year of the Dragon

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon, by H. Leighton Dickson.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $19.99 (i + 335 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon is dedicated “To Readers of Infinite Patience”. I assume that’s because this is Book 4 of Dickson’s The Rise of the Upper Kingdom series; and it’s been five years since Book 3, Songs in the Year of the Cat.

Has it been worth the wait? YES!!

To summarize, it’s 5,000 years in the future. Civilization has disappeared. In the Far East a new Oriental culture is forming, the Upper Kingdom, a blend of ancient Chinese and Japanese customs with bioengineered animal peoples. To quote the blurb for Book 1, To Journey in the Year of the Tiger:

“This is a powerful, post-apocalyptic story of lions and tigers, wolves and dragons, embracing and blending the cultures of Dynastic China, Ancient India and Feudal Japan. Half feline, half human, this genetically altered world has evolved in the wake of the fall of human civilization.”

In Book 1, Kirin Wynegarde-Grey, a genetic lion-man (yes, he has a tail) is the young Captain of the Empress’ personal guard. While the rest of the great Palace is preparing the celebrations to mark the turning of the Year of the Ox into the Year of the Tiger, he is assigned to leave on a long mission with four others (and several guardsmen). The Upper Kingdom is guided by a Council of Seven, revered Seers whose visions have infallibly led the Empire in wisdom and peace for centuries. Now something, or someone, is killing the Seers, one by one, by unknown means, always in their beds at the close of the Second Watch of the night. Kirin and his companions must discover the cause and stop it.

The four others are Kirin’s adjutant, an aggressive snow leopard woman; the Empire’s Scholar, a young and naïve tigress; the Empire’s Alchemist, an older cheetah-woman of dubious loyalty; and Kerris Wynegarde-Grey, Kirin’s twin but silver-gray where Kirin is golden, the Empire’s Geomancer but a drunken ladies’ man. They have more adventures than they expect, and are led outside the Empire’s borders, into the unknown West (Europe) where they awaken surviving scientists of the forgotten human civilization from suspended cold-sleep. In Book 3, Songs in the Year of the Cat, Kirin and the others return to the Upper Kingdom, and Kirin becomes the Empire’s Shogun-General to mobilize a defense against the awakened Ancestors and their weapons of mass destruction.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon contains action scenes, but it is worth reading for all of Dickson’s writing:

“Dragons are the divine protectors of the Upper Kingdom and the ultimate symbol of Life and Fortune. Their celestial breath, or sheng chi, wards off evil spirits, protects the innocent and bestows safety to all. They show their power in the form of the seasons, bringing water from rain, warmth from sunshine, wind from the seas and soil from the Earth.

Kerris Wynegarde-Grey knows this. Like him, dragons are elemental.

There are wind dragons and water dragons, dragons of fire and dragons of ice. There are dragons that live deep n the earth, crush stone with their teeth and breathe sand like incense. According to Kerris, there are even metal dragons, although these are considerably more rare and are usually closely tied to Ancestors. That makes them dangerous, best to be avoided at all costs.

Perhaps the most dangerous dragon, however, is not really a dragon at all. It is the Year of the Dragon. In a Dragon year there is no peace, said the Chi’Chen Emperor in a previous life, only fire. Dragon years are like the sea – violent and unpredictable with incessant waves of calamity, upheaval and change. Men may make their fortunes in the Year of the Dragon, and just as quickly lose them. And for those born in the Year of the Dragon (called Dragonborn), dragon years are often bad luck.

Empress Thothloryn Parilland Markova Wu was dragonborn,” (pgs. 1-2)

The threat is not from only the reawakened Ancestors. In fact, Jeffery Solomon, in an Ancestor-crewed helijet zeppelin high over the coast of what was once Australia, is one o the “good guys”:

“‘Oh look,’ said Sengupta. ‘Pelicans.’

They all pressed their noses to the glass.

Below them were pelicans, flying low to the water in a perfect V. The birds had changed little despite the wars, plagues and mutations of centuries past. They were familiar, they were natural and to the scientists, they were a comforting sight.

‘I’ll get closer,’ said Ward. She angled the stick and the Griffen dipped a wing. It was a quiet, solar-powered vehicle and soon, they were soaring alongside the flock. Solomon could almost feel the ocean spray on his face.

‘These ae nice,’ said Sengupta. ‘Pelicans are not terribly wild birds.’

‘I love to watch their wings,’ said Dell. ‘Pure biomechanics in motion.

Solomon grinned again, remembering the time a young tigress drove a Humlander along the ruined roads of Turkey. That was not so much biomechanics in motion as an accident waiting to happen.

‘Is that our shadow?’ asked Sengupta and she pointed. There was a dark shape under the water, moving as fast and mirroring the trajectory of the flock.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Solomon. ‘Damaris…’

‘A whale!’ Dell shouted. ‘It’s a whale! I’m sure of it!’

Sengupta turned to look at him.

‘They still have whales?’

‘It’s all worth it then,’ said Dell. ‘Some of us hoped that whales would survive, even if we didn’t.’

The shape grew darker as if rising to the surface. Solomon frowned.


‘Yuh, I’m going to get some altitude,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to be knocked out of the sky by a breaching humpback.’

‘Wait, I want to see it,’ said Dell.

‘I don’t,’ said Sengupta. ‘He can stay in the water where he belongs.’

Solomon leaned forward, pressed his forehead against the glass when suddenly, the shadow burst upward with a great spray of water. Ward threw her weight onto the stick and the helijet banked steeply, sending both men out of their seats to the cabin deck. Solomon scrambled to his feet and, through the window he caught a glimpse of white water and grey skin, a huge gaping mouth and rows of dagger teeth. The body of a pelican struck the glass and the Griffen bucked again before the great creature crashed back to the water to disappear beneath the waves.

‘That was no whale,’ muttered Ward.

‘What was it?’ Sengupta cried. ‘What was it?’

Physeter macrocephalus?’ Dell now. ‘Carcharodon carcharias? Both? Neither? An entirely new species? New Genus? New Family? New Order? I have no clue, Jian. It’s blown all my learning out the door.’

Solomon peered at the skies above, the water below.

‘So… where are the pelicans?’ he asked.” (pgs. 5-6)

This isn’t even to page 10 yet. To quote the back-cover blurb: “Meanwhile, Kirin, Kerris and the others journey to the mysterious city of Shin Sekai under the ‘protection’ of the Snow Guard [simian soldiers]. Here, they discover a gruesome secret at the heart of the Capuchin Council and the Court of the Rising Suns. With snow and Snow thwarting their every move, will the leaders of the Nine Thousand Dragons get out of this New World alive?”

The uncredited cover shows Major Ursa Laenskaya, Kirin’s former adjutant, now guardian of the Empress’ Seers and protector of Sha’Hadin; a snow leopardess.

Just read it. Snow in the Year of the Dragon comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but there will be a Book 5.

Fred Patten

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