The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
Tor, New York, 2007
From my TBR pile.
I first learned of Michael Swanwick through his collection of stories The Dog Said Bow-Wow, and had wanted to read a longer work. I picked up The Dragons of Babel at one of my favorite used bookstores and decided to read it for the Once Upon A Time VI challenge. I was swept into the story after the first couple of pages.
This is adult fantasy, dark and mixed with mythic elements, a strange and wonderful blend of techno-steam punk and magic that takes place just over the border in post-industrial Fäerie.
A war-dragon crashes outside a small village and drags itself into town. There the dragon finds himself a “lieutenant”, a boy named Will, and slowly insinuates himself into his brain. Will, surrounded by ancient healers and truth-tellers, eventually leaves the village, crosses a war-ravaged land and comes to the city of Babel and to the magnificent Tower. There, with the help of hustlers and haints, he struggles to find his true place.
….He was still staring at the undulating land, feeling small and unimportant and quietly excited. Fear mingled in him with desire. With every passing mile, he experienced a growing emptiness, a gathering of tension, a profound desire to be rewritten that was so strong as to almost be a prayer: Great Babel, mother of cities, take me in, absorb me, dissolve me, transform me. For just this once, let one plus one equal two. Make me into someone else. Make that someone everything I am not. By the axe and the labrys, amen.
All prayers were dangerous. Either they were answered or they were not, and there was no telling which outcome would produce the greater regret. But they were necessary as well, for they suggested a way out of the unendurable present…from pages 96/97.
Swanwick manages to mix fäery tradition with police, gangsters and corrupt politicians. This strange brew never seems odd or forced. The tower is filled with bureaucrats, the streets with whores and thieves. Babylon is a mix of ancient city and twenty-first century Gotham. Will encounters Centaurs, Giants and a beautiful elf girl riding a Hippogryph. This novel is a great read for those seeking well-written, intellectually dense and rowdy fantasy. The story takes place in a universe first visited in The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. I want to read that book and anything else by this fine author.