Friday, 20 November 2009

The Dragon Book - Book Review

Penguin recently released a new short story collection centered around dragons. It's edited Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. The table of contents follows along with my quick reviews for each story.

The author line-up in The Dragon Book is a bit unusual for a collection by "the masters of modern fantasy", especially considering that some of the authors in the book would likely not appreciate their works being classified as fantasy. The stories themselves are diverse and entertaining, with some completely unexpected takes on the mythos of dragons. Most of the stories are alternate histories, where dragons exist in the real world. A few at the end of the book have fantasy world settings. (My review code is as follows ^ = thumbs up, ^^ = 2 thumbs up, v = thumb down)

v "Dragon's Deep" - Cecelia Holland (I liked the beginning of the story, about a village whose taxes have been raised and what the villagers must do in order to survive, but an ... unpleasant event occurs part way through that made the ending less plausible - and palatable - for me.)
^ "Vici" - Naomi Novik (I haven't read her novels, but if this story, set in ancient Rome, is an example, then I'll definitely be picking them up.)
^ "Bob Choi's Last Job" - Jonathan Stroud (An interesting detective story where dragons can cloak themselves to look like humans.)
^ "Are You Afflicted with Dragons?" - Kage Baker (Loved the premise, that dragons are small pests, kind of like pigeons, and need to be dealt with. However, I found the ending too abrupt.)
^ "The Tsar's Dragons" - Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (Taking place just before the Russian Revolution, both Rasputin and Leon Trotsky make appearances.)
^ "The Dragon of Direfell" - Liz Williams (This story, about a magician called in to deal with a dragon, was cleverly written and had a great ending.)
^^ "Oakland Dragon Blues" - Peter S. Beagle (Another great story, a cop's called in to move a dragon who's obstructing traffic, not that he'd later admit that's what it was. Shows how reality is shaped by belief.)
v "Humane Killer" - Diana Gabaldon & Samuel Sykes (Two stories that intersect, one half tells of a magician and her knight protector, the other half tells of a knight in training and his scarred sister companion. Neither group is what they appear and both are sent to kill the same dragon. I found the story rather long and boring with rather unsympathetic characters.)
^^ "Stop!" - Garth Nix (A man walks onto an US army a-bomb test site. Sounds odd but the story works and is one of the best in the collection.)
^ "Ungentle Fire" - Sean Williams (A coming of age story where a boy is sent to slay a dragon, but is unsure whether following his master is still the correct course of action.)
^^ "A Stark and Wormy Knight" - Tad Williams (A fantastic tale of a dragon telling her son a bed time story. It uses dialect, but the tale itself is fun, not the least for being from the dragon's POV.)
^ "None So Blind" - Harry Turtledove (Colonial soldiers examine a mountain range inhabited by savages concerning rumours of dragons.)
^ "JoBoy" - Diana Wynne Jones (A strange but interesting story of a man whose father mysteriously dies and who, himself, falls prey to an undiagnosable illness.)
^ "Puz-le" = Gregory Maguire (Ellen's so bored from being stuck in the cottage due to rain that she decides to do a puzzle. Only the picture keeps changing. The character's aren't that likable, but Maguire writes them so well you don't really care.)
^^ "After the Third Kiss" - Bruce Coville (This story has the feel of a fairytale in that it's bizarre, has an evil step-mother and a relatively happy ending. There are some great twists in the tale of a girl changed into a dragon who needs her brothers kisses in order to become human again. It was another one of my favourites.)
^ "The War That Winter Is" - Tanith Lee (An ice dragon terrorizes those living in northern climes, freezing whole villages with his breath, until a hero is born. A tale about discovering your own purpose in life rather than doing what others want you to do.)
^ "The Dragon's Tale" - Tamora Pierce (A second story told from a dragon's POV, this time a young dragon who wants to help a woman and her child.)
^^ "Dragon Storm" - Mary Rosenblum (Tahlia of the 'bad-luck eyes' has a way with dragons, but a bully from the grove where she lives threatens her life, and the role she might play in keeping the groves safe from the Kark. A highly enjoyable story, with interesting characters.)
^ "The Dragaman's Bride" - Andy Duncan (Mountain youths are disappearing and Pearl, a magician stumbles onto the reason for the mystery.)

The book has, in my opinion, 5 exceptional stories and 2 bad to mediocre stories. The others were fun reads and did show originality in dealing with dragons. Ultimately, this is a great collection for anyone who loves dragons or who wants to know more about them.

1 comment:

Graham and Wolf MacFadden said...

We're not usually much for anthologies -- we prefer novels -- but your review had us wanting to read several of these stories. Thank you for the post.