The Iron Dragon's Daughter

By Michael Swanwick
Avonova/Morrow, hc, 424 pages, $23.00<
ISBN: 0-688-13174-3

This is a wonderful book, in a number of truly bizarre ways. Imagine if Charles Dickens had set out to write high fantasy. Or if Theodore Dreiser had decided to collaborate with William Goldman to produce a novel of sex, death, and elfpunks. Neither of those comparisons quite describes what Michael Swanwick is up to, but they convey the general idea.

It's refreshing to see high fantasy that isn't rooted in the medieval period, and a society where magic and technology are both co-equal parts of everyday life, rather than being uncomfortably stuffed together because a writer didn't quite succeed in working out the relationship between swords and sorcery.

Jane begins the novel as the lone human child in a massive factory complex; she and a grotesquely eclectic variety of fey children are forced to work endless days in the manufacture of dragons. Eventually she escapes and... well, read the book; it's a dizzying piece of witty, wickedly dark fantasy. Jane has to be one of the least romantic high-fantasy heroes ever, prone to petty theft, cruel betrayals, manipulative sexual encounters, and worse, but somehow likable throughout.

The first section of this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of fantasy. The rest of the book is very good, though not as strong as the opening. Time and space constraints meant I could only write a capsule review at the time; nowadays I have a lot more to say about this novel.

First appeared in Horror magazine, January 1994.

Copyright © 1993 by Leigh Grossman