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The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar
by Indra Das

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted February 8, 2024

Available for Kindle as well as from other e-book retailers. Both Amazon and Bookshop have listings for the Subterranean hardcover, but for how long? Those usually do not have a large print run. Whichever you choose, a purchase through our links may earn us a commission. Another option, for which we would not get a commission, both the e-book or hardcover are available direct from Subterranean Press.

This is a short novella, and my review will be short as well. Published last June by Subterranean Press, The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar is a fantasy/science fiction hybrid set in Calcutta, India (now Kolkata), beginning in the mid-1980s, and covering several decades in the life of Reuel George. That is not his original name, and it was many years before his parents revealed that. As for the surname, they told him it was because they identified with St. George, the dragon-slayer. That is odd since they also claimed to be dragoners, riders of dragons, not their slayers. Ru wasn't sure if they were being serious or teasing, and he had a hard time remembering things they told him because they also insisted he drink the Tea of Forgetfulness whenever they had one of those conversations. As he grew older, the tea lost its effectiveness, and many memories came back to him.

I may be mistaken, but I think this is just the second book I've read by Indra Das, who has also published under his full name, Indrapramit Das. ISFDb lists over thirty short stories, so it is possible I have read one of them. Dragoners is very different from his novel The Devourers, but equally good. Ru always felt out of sync with his schoolmates, several of whom taunted and bullied him. It's not like he looked different from them; his skin and hair equally dark, but he may have acted differently since he did not have a strong sense of self. Whenever he asked his parents or grandmother where they came from, they usually answered, "nowhere." They were nomads, and had moved from place to place often. No talk of ethnicity either. Were they Indian or not, and how about religion? They pretended to be Christian but were not, but neither were they Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. After a few years they began home-schooling Ru, so he had even fewer opportunities for friendships with kids his age. Until Alice Chen that is.

Ru and his family lived above a Chinese restaurant operated by the Chen's. Alice's father was Chinese, her mother Bengali. She was slightly older than Ru, went to a private school, Ru not seeing much of her beyond the occasional glimpse of her behind the restaurant counter. She was invited to his thirteenth birthday party, which was at the restaurant. They began seeing each other more frequently, and she was one of the very few allowed inside Ru's house. The years of the story are approximate, but we do know that Ru and Alice saw The Fellowship of the Ring in the cinema shortly after he turned eighteen. His father was a science fiction and fantasy fan, and had introduced Ru to many books, including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. His father wrote at least one novel, which was published, but fared poorly. It was the only book released by a new press started by an American friend. The Dragoner's Daughter told the story of a group of people who fled their world due to a violent war, riding their dragons through rifts of space and time, finally settling on Earth. If that story was truth rather than fiction, and if a later revelation that Ru was the only child born on Earth to those refugees was the truth, what does that mean for him when his parents decide to attempt a return to their home world? They don't want to abandon him, but are afraid his acclimation to Earth might prove hazardous for him in space and on their world.

One of my favorite things about fantasy is you can accept the premise, or you can assume things are only in the imagination of the characters, without diminishing the truths of the story. This can be viewed as being about a shy introvert, who slowly comes out of his shell through the friendship with another. Ru and Alice declare they love each other, but that does not mean they will be together. She gets a scholarship to an American college, forms other friendships, finds another love, while Ru remains in Calcutta. She does return for visits over the years, but he never leaves, spending most of his time in his home, and in the gardens with its giant dragon tree. The last time Alice visits, or at least the last time in this book, he shows her what that tree offers, and she realizes dragons are real. She may be fascinated enough to stay, and if so, she and Ru could live a life "under the wings of a serpent impossible."


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Indra Das

June 1, 2023

Purchase Links:

Subterranean Press hardcover listed at both Amazon and Bookshop, but maybe not for long.

A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.

Another option, for which we would not get a commission, you can get either the e-book or hardcover direct from Subterranean Press.