This novel arrived in the mail about a day before I headed west, after I’d waited the better part of two weeks for it (and even longer, if you factor in the fact that I pre-ordered it, but that’s a whole ‘nother story, as they say).
I started reading it on the train, and I finished it in the basement living room of my sister-in-law’s house. It’s an engrossing read; as I neared the end, I had to force myself to slow down, to not miss any of the fantastic* details hidden in very nearly every single sentence.
The novel’s set in the same industrial-faerie universe as The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, but it’s by no means a sequel. The story starts off with Will le Fey watching war dragons arc across the sky over his small village, bound for conflict in some unimaginable war. One is shot down, and drags itself, flightless, to Will’s village, where it declares itself ruler. It makes Will its lieutenant, in part because Will, unlike anyone else in town, is half-human.
Will partakes in the privileges and the awful responsibilities of his role, and in short order the entire village is set against him. When the dragon’s grip on the village is finally broken, Will is sent into exile.
He makes his way across a Faërie beset by the ravages of war, and winds up in a refugee camp. From there he travels to Babel itself, the great tower that stands high as Heaven, and joins in a confidence game that trades on the identity of the absentee King of Babel to make a lot of money. But there’s a twist; there’s always a twist…
This book is dense with information, and every sentence serves to nudge the plot forward. There’s a depth and a humanity to the characters, and we see people at their best and at their very worst, sometimes on the same page. Nothing is irrelevant; every detail has its place and its purpose. The world of Babel is rife with betrayals, disappointments, triumphs, and tragedies.
Michael Swanwick very much needs to be more well-known than he is. It’s a shame that hardly anyone will have heard of this book, much less read it.
* In every sense of the word.