The Iron Dragon’s Mother, by Michael Swanwick
Synopsis: Framed for treason, the pilot of a military dragon must dodge the law while trying to clear her name.
Book Review: That synopsis is really, really inaccurate, but it’s the best I could do with a single line. There’s two reasons for this.
The first is that it gives the impression of a fantasy world. The world of this book is far closer to a Final-Fantasy-style JRPG than a standard fantasy world. It contains battle mechs with dragon spirits in them, sniper rifles and magic swords, elves and wraiths and cell phones and Coca-Cola in aluminum cans. It is a glorious mashup of everything cool that constatly keeps you off-balance, and if you like that sort of thing (and I do) it’s fan-freaking-tastic.
The second reason is that it gives the impression that this book is a standard narrative story. You know, one that follows a single character (or group) as they acheive some goal across the span of the novel. This is not that, and at first it hurt my enjoyment. By the third time the story seemed to go off on a strange digression that was ended abruptly (sometimes with a Deus Ex Machina) and didn’t have much to do with what I thought the plot was about (ie: what’s in my synopsis) I was beginning to get grumpy. I kept reading though, until it finally clicked.
This isn’t a traditional narrative. It is, instead, a collection of individual stories that are loosely woven together by having a single character moving between them to serve as our POV. And not just any individual stories either, these are basically modern fairy tales and/or myths. In this regard, Iron Dragon’s Mother feels very much like Bridge of Birds, which also featured many dissparate fairy-tale-style stories that our main character moves across.
Once I realized that’s what this was, I very quickly started to love this book again. Taking each individual story by itself, we get a rich variety of fascinating charecters, cool worlds, and intruiging conflicts. That they don’t have much cohesion between them doesn’t matter, as long as we’re taken from one to another with a deft hand, and we basically are. The writing is snappy, and getting brand-new fairy tales that have never existed before is actually really dang cool! There are a ton of little narratives in here that I won’t forget for a long, long time.
If you liked Bridge of Birds, and you like crazy Final-Fantasy-mixed-genre worlds, you are going to really, really enjoy this. Plus there’s the joy of exploring something novel, something very different from most of what’s written. Recommended!
Book Club Review: An interesting book for a book club, because it is so weird. People’s enjoyment of the book seemed to hinge quite a bit on whether they discovered the “series of fairy tales” angle while reading it, and whether they accepted/enjoyed that aspect if/when they did. While no one hated it, several found it’s lack of focus exasperating. The scattershot aspect of the novel also made it difficult to identify a singular theme to serve as topic of conversation. The many sparkly facets of the novel do make up for this a fair bit. In the end, I think it comes down to if your book club is looking for something novel to throw into the mix. If so, Recommended. If not, probably not.
Another book that does the collection of fairy tales thing (unmarked, explicitly lying and claiming it’s a novel when it is not even this much a novel): The Lost Books Of The Odyssey. (The unifying theme exists, it’s exactly what it says on the tin, but it’s a pure short story collection that says “A Novel” on the cover.)
Apart from the blatant lies it’s quite good.