by Lucius Shepard
Cover Artist: J.K. Potter
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596066526
Date: 31 July 2014 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The dragon Griaule has been fascinating and intriguing readers since its first literary appearance back in 1984. Lucius Shepherd has created a series of linked stories concerning those whose lives are affected by the dragon, petrified by magic centuries ago but still alive and, perhaps, still able to exert its influence on those around it. These stories stretch the length of Shepherd's career, and with Beautiful Blood, we have a novel length story about Griaule that is clearly meant to finish the story of Griaule once and for all.
The story takes place in the town of Teocinte, a town built up along the side of the massive dormant dragon. Richard Rosacher is a young medical student, who becomes fascinated with trying to uncover the properties of Griaule's blood. Upon being injected with the blood, however, he discovers that it is a potent drug, and his scholarly interest is replaced by a more mercantile aim. He quickly establishes a thriving business in the new drug, and this both makes him wealthy and also brings him to the attention of the political and religious leaders of Teocinte. Rosacher becomes a very powerful man, but he begins to wonder how much of his success is his own doing and how much is due to the subtle manipulations of the dorman Griaule.
Rosacher is a fascinating character, and much of the story hinges on him. He displays a calculating and ruthless streak in pursuit of his goals, but as the story goes on, he comes to regret the harm he has done, without ever quite being able to be rid of his ruthlessness. His development over the course of the novel is one of the highlights of this powerful work.
The dragon itself is, of course, another centerpiece of the narrative. It's meaning is always obscure, both to the characters and to the reader. Is it a representation of fate, constantly controlling the lives of all who are near it? Or is it merely an excuse that others use to shift the blame for their own misdeeds? It is never clear, and Rosacher himself cannot decide what to make of the dragon and its role in his life.
The dragon Griaule is a fascinating symbol. Evocative, elusive, and impossible to pin down, it animates the entire narrative. One of the many tragedies of Lucius Shepherd's recent and untimely death is that there will be no more stories about Griaule, but this last tale is a fitting capstone to the long running story.