The Last Tsar’s Dragons

Written by Adam Stemple Jane Yolen
Review by Judith Starkston

Jane Yolen and her son, Adam Stemple, bring readers the Russian Revolution with dragons. No one is better positioned to tell a dragon tale than Jane Yolen, and this novella is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek satire of the Revolution and other aspects of European history. In this telling, Tsar Nicholas and his German tsarina control their collapsing country with dragons. In a reference to the pogroms, they especially enjoy sending the dragons out to torch Jewish villages. The Jews, in response, have developed drachometers, early warning devices to send them underground in time. The dragons destroy property, but the Jews themselves endure. Amongst these Jews is a revolutionary who has a dragon plot of his own. The Red Menace takes on a whole new meaning. The novel’s dry, humorous tone is demonstrated in an award ceremony scene for the tsarina, honored for her kindnesses on behalf of the poor. The Tsar knows she does not like surprises, so he has told her in advance, but she is planning to act surprised. “The tsarina put her hand to her breast and looked marvelously surprised… And when she stood and made her careful way up the stairs and across the boards towards him, her left hand still rested there on her breast. She looked, one of her friends would tell her later, like a doe crossing the ice, with careful competence and always on the alert for possible danger.” Readers will laugh along with this story, although it will be a bitter laugh since the joke of history is really on all of us.