Dream of the Dragon Pool: A Daoist Quest, Albert A. Dalia's impressive debut novel, presents readers with a magical blend of fantasy, history, and Chinese mythology. Western literature has only just begun to tap into the wellspring of Far Eastern tradition and mythology, especially China's "tales of wonder," which seem almost tailor-made for the fantasy genre, but Albert A. Dalia has already drunk deeply from its refreshing waters. Don't let that word "Daoist" scare you off; I couldn't have told you what it meant, either - although I do know there is absolutely nothing "simplistic" about it or this novel. Heck, we're talking about universal concepts of existence here, mixing it up with profound insights into the very essence of life and dancing around enlightenment itself.
Dalia builds his story around Li Bo (or Li Bai), one of China's most celebrated poets. History tells us that Li Bo, who lived in the 8th century, got himself exiled from the imperial court, then likely perished in the Yangtze River soon afterward. Dalia's fantasy begins where history ends, introducing readers to Li Bo and his faithful warrior companion Ah Wu as they set out along the Yangtze River on their way to Li Bo's probable death in the dangerous land of his exile. The possibility of impending death doesn't bother Li Bo too much, though, for he is much more concerned with finding the poetic muse that will reawaken the inner poetry he has lost. Whatever inner magic helped him conjure up such immortal poems as Drinking Alone by Midnight is now gone. That is why he makes a point of visiting the mysterious Dragon Pool Temple along the way; the next morning, he leaves the place with the famed Dragon Pool Sword and a mission to deliver it to the Rain Goddess on her sacred mountain. Ah Wu considers the sword dangerous, but Li Bo is determined to fulfill his new, sacred quest.
The men soon meet a fellow traveler and his ghost-catching, alcohol-loving monkey (yes, you read that correctly) both of whom can be good to have around when danger beckons, which it does in the form of an assassin capable of killing people within their very own dreams and a Blood Dragon anxious to get her hands on the unmatched sword. Throw in the emperor's favorite shamaness attempting to flee to the Rain Goddess' sacred mountain, as well, and you've got yourself quite an engrossing adventure. The emotional heart of the story, though, is Chen, the ghost of a young woman. Bound to do the will of the Blood Dragon, she must befriend and betray Li Bo (whose true identity is unknown to her) against her will; what makes her struggle all the more poignant is the fact that her only remaining solace in her ghostly life is Li Bo's poetry.
There is plenty of action and excitement, on both land and sea, as Li Bo attempts to fulfill his quest and deliver the Dragon Pool Sword to the Rain Goddess on Mount Wu. All of the characters are wonderfully developed, while the backdrop of this ancient land and time makes for a wonderfully exotic setting for such a fantastic tale. As a long-time scholar of medieval Chinese history, Dalia really knows this long-ago world he is recreating and brings it vividly to life. If you're a fantasy fan looking for something a little different, or someone with an interest in Chinese history and mythology, or if you just appreciate a well-written novel, you'll want to undertake this Daoist quest alongside the great poet Li Bo. Dream of the Dragon Pool is a wonderfully engaging novel.