You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Dragons of Babel

Michael Swanwick is always an exciting author to read. His stories are exciting and different and he is not afraid to shake things up, even half way through a novel. In The Dragons of Babel, Swanwick takes a fantastic short story and expands the central character into a more interesting protagonist as he explores the wider world.

The main character is Will le Fey, and the opening story is about how a war dragon is shot down and drags itself to Will's village, then proceeds to take control of the population. Through the dragon's powers, it forces the villagers to do its bidding. It selects Will as its lieutenant, inserting its mind into his. Will finds himself trapped, forced to do the dragon's bidding. The villagers turn against him, even though they know that they are all doing what they must to stay alive. Will is even forced to crucify his best friend. Finally Will runs away from the dragon and forces himself to stay away until he breaks the control. With some of the tricks he has learned from the dragon he destroys it, yet a piece of its mind stays in him.

Will is forced to leave the village since nobody there wants to see him anymore. The war drives him, yet he helps a young girl named Esme and they stick together. Esme is an old woman full of luck and made younger, but cursed to forget her past. In a refugee camp they find a friend in Nat, a carefree elf who is a two bit magician and con man. Nat gets them into Babel but they get chased by the authorities due to forged paperwork.

Here the story makes a complete change as Will descends into the underworld of Babel. He must draw on the powers of the dragon to defeat a challenger. He becomes second in command to an elf who wants to create an army of underworlders to rise up and fight for their place in Babel proper. Yet when the final moment comes, the whole army disappears and Will realizes that everything has been an illusion created by the elf.

When Will gets above ground, he finds Nat and Esme and they start a large con. It involves a dubious ring, a fancy party, and rumors of a lost prince's return. However, it appears that while the underworld plot appeared real but was all an illusion, the plot for the throne of Babel appears illusion but may actually be real. The final hectic pages involve chases and intrigues, as well as a large variety of creatures.

Swanwick is very inventive. In addition to the quickly changing plot, the story is filled with fascinating characters. There's the vixen who helps Nat with his cons, the toad who is stuck in a crack but keeps growing and now runs a bar that surrounds her, the lively elf who Will falls in love with, the police elf who keeps chasing after Will. Then there is the voice of Will's best friend that comes back to haunt him, or help him. And of course the dragon is still there, giving him strength but threatening to take over and destroy everything. Will's mission of vengeance against Babel takes a new turn as he comes closer and closer to the power of the city. The story is a growing up tale of a young man but also a story of the city itself, how it lives and projects power, how decadent is has become in the absence of its king. There is a deep mythology and the city feels broader than any of the individual parts. The city has its own life, and Will comes to understand it even as he understand himself. A-

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