REVIEW: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, by Michael Swanwick
First, since I love to recommend books for young readers, I’d warn that the subject matter is quite intense. Strong themes of disturbing sex and violence are integral to the story.
Swanwick sets his tale in a fantastical realm adjacent to ours. All of the trappings of modern life exist. All the trappings of the traditional fantasy exist. Except dragons and warhorses are machines. Sexuality strengthens and enhances magic associated with the traditional fantasy realm, but wreaks havoc with the engineering and circuitry associated with the building and maintenance of dragons. A fantastical cosmology, restricting the travel between our world and this one to souls, and the constant need for bloody sacrifice flesh out Swanwick’s fantastical realm. And that flesh is beautiful and grotesque.
Jane’s life is hard. On many levels, she doesn’t quite fit into the world around her. She keeps not quite learning the lessons life is trying to teach her and her close friends pay the bloody price and reincarnate into the sphere of characters that will drive the next stage of her life. This coming of age fugue teaches with repeated tragedy.
This book sat on my shelf for many years. I picked it up at various times, but I only ever made it through the first section. Swanwick brings a vivid life to the supporting cast of children and then slays many of our favorites suddently and brutally. This forces you to reconnect with the world anew, but if you do, you’ll be better prepared for the pain and tragedy that comes again in waves. By forcing Jane to live through and overcome horrors in childhood, highschool and college Swanwick earns every ounce of character development.
I found the world vivid and darkly beautiful. Its acceptance of violence as a way of life speaks volumes about our own world. The narrative is linear, but time, both in the story and the setting itself is fluid and somewhat fractal and chaotic in turns. In spite of it’s tone and weight, I found this book refreshing for it’s drastically unique take on familiar tropes. The Iron Dragon’s Daughter is anchored firmly in the genre of fantasy, but should prove to be a satisfying read for either the horror or SciFi fan as well.
I’ve once again made it to the end of a review without expressing well how much I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and while I’ll definitely recommend it to particular people, I fully expected a broad audience, even a broad fantasy audience, to have a bit of difficulty with it.
origninally published on journalscape, here