Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

Mary Soon Lee, Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon: Book 1

Dark Renaissance Books, Brookings, OR, ISBN: 1937128741, 186 pages.

http://marysoonlee.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/sign.html

 Book Cover

Mary Soon Lee’s Crowned (2015) is the first book in her The Sign of the Dragon series, an epic fantasy told in free verse. Using a fusion of Asian and Celtic cultures, Lee allows viewers to envision this hybrid world with the clarity of cultural specific imagery along with a number of elaborate illustrations by M. Wayne Miller. Through poetry we get the story of Xau, the sixteen-year-old son of a highly honored king, and his quick rise to power after the death of his father and older brothers. Xau survives a visit to the dragon who killed his brothers, which appears to be a ceremony to prove courage and honor necessary to become the next king. The dragon demands what the boy will give up for the honor to be king and Xau replies “‘My freedom!’ He shouted at her./‘Well,’ she said, ‘that’s a start.’” Soon after he returns to his kingdom glimpses of his past life are shown through the drastic changes that he endures by becoming responsible for not only his self-image but for an entire nation at war.

 

Lee supplies a variety of different perspectives within the poems so as to create an internal rhythm within the entire collection. Poems such as “Training: Weights” and “The Queen’s War” focus on a supporting characters around Xau and their thoughts on his development as a king. Other poems like “Grief” explore the young king through a particular lens, in this case through a type of list-poem including the verbal interactions he has on a daily basis with his court. By varying the ways in which the story is told, Lee allows for the small details in Xau’s life to become defining characteristics of his role as a ruler. It becomes clear through the comparison between Xau and his father’s rule that the son finds the position to be humbling. He usually acts in opposition to what his father’s court was accustomed to. The poem “The Horse Lord” reveals that the previous king never participated in a particular tradition of their neighboring ally, yet Xau gained respect by honoring this act. Xau’s positive and caring nature is almost his only fault as a dynamic character since Lee presents him as being perfect in almost every aspect. This presents him as a caricature of a good king at times since there are only a few instances when he disappoints his counselors and even then there are always good reasons for having done so. Yet, due to the large scale of this project as proposed by Lee there is time to further delve into the negative aspects of this seemingly perfect king.

 

In one section of the collection Lee explores how to survey battles within the larger scheme of a war through poetry. Through Lee’s hyper-focus on single characters from opposite sides of the fight, the battles become more intricate in presentation. The poem “Leong” follows one of Xau’s warriors through the various parts of the battle so as to give an outsider’s perspective on what happened to the king during his second experience in combat. A sequence of poems entitled “Thirty-Eighth War Between Innis and Meqing” give further details on the wins and losses of each battle, showing the progression of Xau as a warrior and leader. After the battles end Xau recognizes the good done even though many men died. In the poem “What Xau Ran From” Lee describes that as the king returns to his camp there was a lot of cheering but the victory was “not their cheers,/but how he’d liked it.” Lee’s presentation of war is one of the aspects that truly gives this poetic story the grandness expected within the genre of epic fantasy.

 

Tackling a longer narrative in verse presents challenges for the poet in continuing to develop both plot and aesthetic continuously throughout the entire work. Poems like “Companionship”, which mentions the difficulties of Xau’s wife coming to terms with his responsibilities, merely present information in a dry manner with little poetic voice. In the poem “Naming” there are moments when the aforementioned illustrations by Miller do a better job at creating a sense of place then Lee’s poetry due to its simple language and selectively narrow focus on Xau’s virtues. Lee has stated that this collection is only the beginning of Xau’s story; she has written over one hundred additional poems which will appear in subsequent volumes. She also recognizes that “many of the poems are deficient in poetry” yet continues to work on them due to the project’s personal importance. Viewing this collection as a single work it does a good job of presenting Xau’s rise in power, yet lacks depth in poetic imagery and presentation. As Lee continues to publish this story in other volumes there is the freedom to further address these issues and create a truly grand epic through narrative poetry.

 

 

 

 

Sebastián Maldonado-Vélez is currently a student in the BFA in Creative Writing program at Truman State University. Maldonado-Vélez has published poems in the Monitor, Zoomoozophone Review and the Moon Zine.