The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar

This enthralling fantasy (119 pages) was published in 2023-96-31 of 2023-96-31 by Subterranean Press. The book takes you to magical Calcutta. David read The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar

Indra Das

How about a book that packs the story of an epic adventure into 120 fleet-footed pages? And there be dragons.

Our hero Ru suspects his family might be some kind of magic. But he can’t get anyone to discuss it. When the story opens, he’s contemplating a bush ablaze with flowering pods. Snuggled into each flower pod is a tiny sleeping dragon. It’s literally a dragon tree. ‘It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in my life,’ he recalls. But when he asks his family about the dragon tree, they say, ‘Dragons aren’t real, you had a dream.’ And that beautiful thing was relegated to the back closet of his memory.

Still, Ru believes he is from a magical family. This makes him a stranger in his house and in his neighborhood. He’s not like the other kids, and no one will let him forget it.

Ru and his family live in a maze-like house with unusual but not entirely inexplicable details: a tapestry that shows stars that aren’t visible from Earth, a bone dagger, and a display of reptile teeth. His parents tell him stories that sound like fables, but maybe they aren’t? There’s a tea they call ‘the Tea of Forgetfulness,’ which is probably not a brand name. It makes for a somewhat unreliable narrator and a whole lot of fun.

As Ru grows up, he slowly comes to understand his situation.

From the title, you might think this is a fantasy book, and it is—but it’s mostly a coming-of-age story and an allegory. Ru’s experiences are an apt metaphor for growing up in the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

Old Calcutta may have been rife with magic. The ’90s version of Kolkata in this book is filled with lingering glimmers, a place where grand, mystical, hard-to-understand things happened, perhaps in the living room or down the street. Maybe, if you squint, the magic is still there, but it’s difficult to see if you look at it head on. And nobody talks about it anymore. So, is it just your imagination? Or was that really a dragon bush?

If magical realism woven into a coming-of-age immigrant story sounds like your kind of thing, you will love this trip to Kolkata.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in my life. I remember the immensity of the happiness I felt, looking at this flower-like fetus of a dragon growing off a tree tended to by my grandmother, knowing that dragons were actually real and grew on trees, wondering if people knew.

I couldn’t really believe it, which is why the memory became a dream. I convinced myself it wasn’t a true memory, because dragons don’t exist.

Why didn’t I ask my grandmother later? My family? I did, of course, and they said: ‘Dragons aren’t real, you had a dream.’ If the dragon tree was a real thing, and my family had the privilege of caring for such a marvel, why would they only show it to me once, when I was young, just old enough to know about dragons from books and cartoons and movies on pirated VHS tapes?

Dragons aren’t real. — Indra Das

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