Review: The Dragons of Babel

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Dragons of Babel
The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, picking it up after I read the first part of this follow-up as a short story. The sheer inventiveness of that segment had me hooked, wherein a wounded mechanical dragon – an aircraft of a machine-age fairyland – crawls into a village and promptly sets itself up as king. I don’t buy a lot of books, despite reading plenty. Yeah, that sounds immensely hypocritical for an author. But most of my reading time is taken up reviewing (copies provided) or researching for my own novels, to which end I have Black Library novels spilling out of my iPad. If I buy something and – more tellingly – make time to read it, then there’s usually a really good reason. The Dragons of Babel was bad for me, in that it I got so much into it that it, ahem, delayed some of my work slightly.

The Dragons of Babel is not so iconoclastic as The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (John Clute, the world’s most erudite and learned reviewer of speculative fiction, described the first novel as ‘anti-fantasy’. That’s a label that fits well). Babel is, however, as crazily imaginative, and treats the tropes of fairytale and modern fantasy both with equal subversiveness as the book’s predecessor. While not as furious, The Dragons of Babel instead displays a great deal of humour, undermining the well-worn ‘potboy to king’ story to often hilarious effect.

Originally composed as a series of short stories, The Dragons of Babel lacks a certain cohesiveness. Although the parts are peerlessly good, they don’t add up to much more than their own individual merits. But these semi-discrete sections are so meritorious that it is easy to overlook the book’s slightly slip-shod, fix-up nature. A definite keeper. Check out the first too, that’s a five star book if ever I read one.

View all my reviews

  1. Matt Keefe says:

    I love The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. I might read it again tomorrow. I remember commenting on one of your stories that it reminded me of Michael Swanwick, in fact. I shall try the new one.

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