I ordered this title sight unseen, with no prior knowledge of its storyline or quality. With "Dragon" in the title, I figured I was getting another good gritty dark fantasy novel. Even a weak Glen Cook paperback is worth paying out of print bookseller prices, so I went for it.
I was pleasantly suprised to get this particular book in the mail! Space opera is the best way to describe the genre, showing all sides of a declining, far flung insterstellar empire maintained by a remote administration. Policy is made and enacted by a fleet of dreadnaughts that are few and far between the stars. They protect their empire against remote hostile alien forces, and against the enemy within, nascent kingdoms of merchant princes scheming to master not only their own solar systems but the big catch -- capturing a stellar warship! All sides have their idealists, their practical realists, and their outright fools, and all put forward extraordinary effort to advance their agendas.
Many of Glen Cook's books have an epic scale, but this one is amazing, with hundreds of combat ships duking it out across whole solar systems, dead soldiers resurrected in their own cloned bodies, star fleets dispatched by computer, dead tactical officers' minds manifested as vertual beings that gradually lose touch with humanity, intelligent starships generating animatrons who can be seduced by a nymphomaniac spoiled heiress, manhunts over a whole arm of the galaxy, and a breathtaking chase sequence that made me think of the opening credits from the original "Star Wars". As always Cook shows us these events from the point of view of those who do the work.
Oh, the title is a metaphor. The empire of humanity is a pile of jewels sought by avariscious beings within and without. The "Dragon" who guards it is the interstellar fleet that must be constantly vigilant, and not always nice. Thus, their fleet directive ... "The Dragon Never Sleeps". Some of the characters are aware of where they stand in relation to this metaphor, some are not. There's a great sequence where the tragic hero of the piece, recruited by petty empire grabbing employers, puts them in their place by saying "I've dealt with thieves before."
Did I mention this was the best book I read in the year 2000?