Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick

AwesomeThis 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.

3 thoughts on “Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick

  1. I need to get back to The Iron Drag­on’s Daugh­ter. My son bog­a­rt­ed it from me, I got side­tracked onto oth­er books (includ­ing a reread of Sta­tions of the Tide), and I nev­er did fin­ish it.

    I agree, Swan­wick deserves to be an author with a Dick­ian fol­low­ing. He’s that good. Bet­ter. Even if I did­n’t care much for Faust.

  2. Oh, I need this book. I fin­ished Iron Drag­on’s Daugh­ter one or two weeks ago, and I loved it. Excel­lent. I’m not sure I liked it more or less than Sta­tions of the Tide (both far more than Faust, though). Apples and oranges.

    Any more Swan­wick recs?

  3. Have you read Vac­u­um Flow­ers yet? It’s pret­ty good, in a lite-cyber­punk space-opera kind of way, and its hive-mind character/s are well-thought-out, and face plau­si­ble chal­lenges. They form a sym­pa­thet­ic vil­lain, not just a Face­less Evil Horde.

    Any of his short sto­ry col­lec­tions are trea­sure troves, too. I’ve got Grav­i­ty’s Angels, The Dog Said Bow-Wow, and Tales of Old Earth. There’s some phe­nom­e­nal stuff in all of them.

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