The Taborin Scale: A Novella of the Dragon Griaule
by Lucius Shepard
Cover Artist: J.K. Potter
Review by Mel Jacob
Subterranean Press Deluxe Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596062887
Date: February 2010 / Show Official Info /
The Dragon Griaule appeared in Shepard's novel Liar's House, and novellas and short stories: "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" (1984), "The Scale Hunter's Beautiful Daughter" (1988,) and "Father of Stones" (1989). The latest novella, The Taborin Scale, follows the adventures of a coin dealer, a whore, and an abused girl. The dragon lies dormant or dead when the novella begins.
George Taborin has a strange affinity for old coins. The coins speak to him and he senses something of their history. He acquires a jar filled with coins, buttons, and tin badges and finds an odd scale in it. As he polishes it, a blue-green color emerges. A whore suggests it is a baby dragon scale. He and the whore come to an agreement: if she spends two weeks with him and satisfies his needs, he will give her the scale. She agrees.
When George rubs the scale, he sees a plain and the whore shares that vision. Surprised and fascinated, she urges him to rub the scale again. Reluctant because no one has ever shared his visions of old coins, he agrees at last. Whisked to a broad plain, they cannot return to their own time. A dragon hovers over the plain and rules it. He herds them to an oasis.
They have no way to communicate with the dragon, but George senses anger. In seeking food, he encounters others. Eventually he meets a family and another man. They fight over food. When he learns these people have sexually abused their young daughter, he rescues her. She says the dragon wants them to go somewhere, but none of it is clear.
Forced to change in many ways, George takes action including killing others to ensure food for his companions. He grows more and more desperate and has no idea how to return to his own time. Relations with the whore and the child grow strained losing him his dream of a real family. Shepard includes a lot on George's sexual urges. He also keeps a few surprises for the ending. His narrative serves as a commentary on society and the roles each person plays, as well as what happens when placed in unfamiliar surroundings where he doesn't know the rules. Shepard writes in metaphors and uses some stereotypes in his fantasies especially of women.
Victoria Hoyle in her review of The Best of Lucius Shepard provided an excellent overview of his work in Strange Horizons. Hoyle makes the following diagnosis of Shepard: "There remains a deep problem, however. Shepard is too precise a storyteller. No matter how skillfully he writes, you can still see how the bones move beneath the skin of his narratives; you can feel their turning points, sense the moments of manipulation. The prose is toned, beautiful…but often artificial. You are left with conflicting sensations: that you have read a masterclass in short fiction, but that something essential, some spirit or spontaneity was missing from it...that his stories are too rigidly defined to admit the very mysterious quality of humanity." I agree with Hoyle.
The reviewer faces an almost impossible task in reviewing an award-winning writer like Shepard--how to interest the reader without spoiling the surprises when the narrative is so dense with meaning other than that of the story.