Daughters of Dragons
Review of the short story "Victoria Dragon" by Jacob Lindaman, published in two parts in Issue 11 and 12 of The Cross and the Cosmos
The Cross and the Cosmos has sown several exciting timelines and story-worlds, canvases that the authors paint in more detail with each new story. Serialized in two parts, appearing in the 11th and 12th issues of The Cross and the Cosmos, “Victoria Dragon” establishes Jacob Lindaman's post-apocalyptic world as one of the e-zine's most well developed and intriguing settings, alongside Frank Luke's medieval fantasy world and the two shared worlds that have been developed by G.L. Francis. Lindaman's world had been glimpsed at an earlier point in its timeline with the story “Citra” from Issue 10, which ties in to “Victoria Dragon” in a way that would probably be pleasantly surprising to those who had read “Citra” a long time before reading “Victoria Dragon.” (I read “Citra” the day before reading “Victoria Dragon” in preparation for reviewing. You do not need to have read “Citra” in order to follow the plot of “Victoria Dragon,” however.)
Lindaman's world is harsh and severe, while presenting some of the natural wonder of fantasy. Set far into our future, “Victoria Dragon” portrays a fantastic apocalypse, one that leaves the natural beauty of the world unspoiled, unlike many other post-apocalyptic settings. The continents had long ago sunk beneath the ocean, presumably leaving many scattered islands, although the landmass on which this story is set appears relatively substantial. The power structure that emerged after the watery apocalypse initiated terrible persecutions of Christians. Mythological beings, such as mermaids and dragons, began to show themselves once again, although their appearances to mortals are still rare enough for some people to doubt their existence.
The weirdest part of the worldbuilding of “Victoria Dragon” is the complete absence of men. Not only are all the characters female (with the possible exception of a nonhuman creature), but there are literally no male humans left alive in the world that the female characters know. As a young adult, the protagonist named in the title seems to be among the last-born generation. No good reason is given for the genocide of males, but the plot of “Citra” leaves a lot of room for speculation. I don't know if the backstory given in the dialog is supposed to imply that all the men in the whole world had been murdered, or whether the phenomenon is restricted to the two societies directly mentioned, but the sense of impending doom, of the literal end of humanity, is strong. One of the story's greatest successes is its ability to create the dread of an impending apocalypse within an already post-apocalyptic world.
The women that inhabit this story have well-developed worldviews. There is no major character in “Victoria Dragon” who is not a Christian. Combined with the lack of male characters, this sounds like it would make for a bland lack of diversity, but it does not. Both the beliefs and the femininity of the characters are deep enough that the characters that are given narrative space seem like unique individuals. Their reactions are believable both as women and as Christians, given the speculative premise. These women may be tough warriors and may never have seen a conventional example of womanhood, but they still give equal concern to the danger of exhaustion as to the need to finish a dangerous mission. Although they comprise a Christian society, some appear to have only nominal faith, attributing successes to God's answering of prayer while angrily blaming God for whatever goes wrong. Even the truly faithful, such as Victoria herself, have fallen into a sort of icon idolatry, which is perfectly understandable given the daily horrors they face and the fact that they probably don't have the Scriptures.
Although the 11th issue of The Cross and the Cosmos was all about dragons, a dragon only makes an apparently inconsequential fly-by in the first of the two installments. The dragon does more for the story as an image and a symbol than as a literal plot element or character, and that is saying something, because the image of the dragon has several levels of meaning. The most meaningful moment in the story comes when two characters are discussing how God has revealed himself to them in their lives. One of the characters said that God had once used a fish as his messenger to her, recalling the icon of the Icthys. The dragon turns out to be a very personal symbol of God specifically to Victoria. The individuality of the all-female, all-Christian characters is cemented by this theme. “...I don't understand him as I wish I could,” one character says, “but I know my faith in him is not the same as yours or anyone else's.”
Another strong theme is the sanctity of life. Perhaps this implies the theme of Resurrection, of God's renewal of a sinful world. I think it would be very inappropriate to try to read a political or theological statement about the proper roles of men and women, despite the centrality of gender to the story.
The greatest weakness of “Victoria Dragon” is the prose, which often seems bland and simply functional, relying too often on cliché phrases. Unfortunately, this blandness extends to the dialog. Despite the depth of characterization and the uniqueness of worldview, none of the characters have distinctive speech patterns, and the prose style of the dialog does not seem to differ from the prose of the surrounding narrative. This weakness might make the characters and the theme appear less impressive than they really are, but I think the depth of the story was still fairly apparent, even during my first reading. Besides the prose, the technical structure of the story, such as pacing and perspective, seems strong. The narrative structure succeeds in creating suspense, especially with the story being split into two parts.
My complaint about the prose aside, The Cross and the Cosmos has given us another brilliantly-portrayed story-world with “Victoria Dragon” and Lindaman's earlier “Citra,” a world that holds serious and relevant themes into the light of story.