Verdict: Laura A. Zubulake's very human players, living, loving, lying and dying in her viscerally enthralling SLAY THE DRAGON know it's a brutal game—with no Off-switch save insanity or death.
César Rosada, Minister of Finance in SLAY THE DRAGON’s fraught Latin American country, struggles against not only the vicious Core Front’s bombings, arson, and assassinations, but inner conflict. Allied with anti-drug campaigns waged by military, government intelligence ops and local police, Rosada learns the deeply embedded “system” exploits insiders as much as the working-class people he vows to free from poverty and—for many—opioid addiction. The relentless violence and despair shatter conventional ideas (and idealists) of good and evil; perhaps only a genuinely ethical soul can effect social change.
Haunting the narrative is the ever-mounting opioid crisis, and Zubulake portrays to heartbreaking effect its corrosive spread through user, family, and community—including one politician’s hunger for revenge after the overdose-death (“…another victim of the dragon.”) of a family member.
The so-called war on drugs proves as addicting as the substances themselves, with equally dire consequences for its fighters, here exemplified when protagonist Rosada receives an anonymous phone-call: “Let me make myself clear. The military should continue to focus on what they’re paid to do—protect us from outsiders. Forget about securing borders and airports. Let our trade continue. . . . Mr. Rosada, imagine life without fields to grow crops, ranches to raise cattle, ports and trains to transport it all. . . . What would that do to those people you’ve pledged your undying loyalty to?”
That brief passage accurately sums what Rosada—and certainly real-world agents of change—faces. Entering deeper into a sociopolitical landscape ruptured by rail-line bombing, arson, murder and assassination, the handsome former athlete covets moral clarity no longer existent (or even relevant) in a world changing so quickly there can be no future but risk management.
Zubulake’s deft characterizations, silent moments and physicality–played to masterful effect–are her greatest strengths. She’s learned too the value of restraint in dialogue, where each word carries charged emotion, or its absence. Only a handful of glitches are present: cell phones are not “dialed,” but keyed; phrasal redundancies such as “he thought to himself,” and too-frequent tagging of dialogue (i.e., he said, she said) can be easily smoothed by close editing.
Laura A. Zubulake’s very human players, living, loving, lying and dying in her viscerally enthralling SLAY THE DRAGON know it’s a brutal game—with no Off-switch save insanity or death.
~William Grabowski for IndieReader