The Iron Dragon's Daughter (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 14 Oct 2004
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|Paperback, 14 Oct 2004||
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'A superb book' John Clute
About the Author
Michael Swanwick was born in 1950. He is recognised as one of the most powerful and consistently inventive writers of his generation. THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award; it was a New York Times Notable Book, as was JACK FAUST. He has been nominated for the Nebula Award more than a dozen times and won a Hugo for his SF novel STATIONS OF THE TIDE. He lives with his wife and son in Philadelphia.
Top customer reviews
Its not often that I can fully understand how a book gets both five star and one star reviews but this book truly could, the pace and style remains consistent pretty much throughout but there is a tendency for stream of consciousness or tangental writing, ideas are introduced but developed only slightly and a certain flighty style, like Philip K Dick on a bad day, does characterise some of it.
The genre I would typify as a kind of steampunk fantasy, magic and eerie faerie lore sits alongside indentured child labour and "dark satanic mills" industrialism. The characterisations of the Faerie, and many other mythical beastery through (some of which could be Swanwick's own creations, I'm not entirely sure) resemble a more cruel and sadistic version of those portrayed by Poul Anderson in Three Hearts & Three Lions (Fantasy Masterworks).
The story revolves around that of a changling child, it begins with their life in a workhouse, fear of being raped or molested (in fact there is a strange sense in which traumatic childhood seduction, sex and perversion threaten to surface but your worst fears arent ever quite realised) to create a half-elf brood of Dragon pilots leads to her conspiracy with a rogue Dragon and escape.
The story then switches to a masterful work world-building, depicting a "lower world" of fantasy creatures governed by incredibly savage norms of burnt offering people sacrifice, amorality, population culls, avaratious and dystopian brutalism. Jayne matures and begins practicing sex magic and indulging in narcotic trips in which she breaks the divide to the "upper world" of mankind but is told there can be no direct crossing between both worlds and that attempting such could result in a fate worse than death (this storyline reminded me of one in the series Buffy The Vampire Slayer in which Buffy receives glimpses of a possible reality in which she is infact a hospitalised mental patient experiencing vivid dillusions, which I believe could be the plot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Interrupted).
Eventually Jayne is seduced by her one time liberator the dragon, who cuts a very malevolent profile it has to be said, (extremely so and the tender image of the cover art does not so much as hint at this) into playing a part in his own design to destroy the fabric of existence itself in an assault upon the dwelling place of a diety he does not believe exists.
At this point things go to pieces a little, the book bears a second reading perhaps to make things clear, but the working out of strands toward the final conclusion can be eclipsed by brilliant but mooted tangents involved in the world building (there are witty observations about hierarchy, diversity, status and coincidence working into the dialogue). The maintaining of the strange "Twin Peaks" or acid trip altered state of consciousness weirdness at the end does result in a bewildering and baffling narrative components. For instance a fearful child figure causing a syringe and dogs tail to materialise, the significance of which isnt just lost on the protagonist, I'm pretty sure I hadnt a clue either, or an elven overlord experiencing "enlightenment" by discovering someone he picked up in the human realm was transgendered (I kid you not!).
However it doesnt spoil the book, its a good read and deserving of a masterworks label, its brilliant but less enjoyable than the other title I've read and also disconcerting or disappointing at the finish. It remains magical and towers over many rivals or contemporaries. Strange book.
The prose is unbelievably elegant, showing more imagination in one short chapter than many books contain in their entirety.
If you are a fan of 'heroic' fantasy, you might not enjoy this book.
On the other hand, if you like authors Gene Wolf, M. John Harrison and Jack Vance, you will find similar quality here and, for me, there's no higher praise than that!
Imaginative and intriguing, The Iron Dragon's Daughter really shows just how lacking in true originality something like Tad Williams' War of the Flowers (which had a somewhat similar theme) is. It fully deserves its place in the Fantasy Masterworks Pantheon.
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