Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE DRAGONS OF BABEL by Michael Swanwick

THE DRAGONS OF BABEL

By Michael Swanwick

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7653-1950-0
Publisher: Tor

Another fantasy set in the seething, eye-popping elfpunk world of The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1994).

During a relentless and seemingly endless war, a huge, badly damaged and utterly malignant battle dragon crafted of science, alchemy, engineering and magic crashes near the village where orphan Will lives. The dragon declares himself king and, crawling into Will’s brain, forces the boy to become his lieutenant. Thereafter the villagers must do the dragon’s bidding—including ordering Will to crucify his childhood best friend, a would-be rebel. Eventually, Will learns Baalthazar’s real name and slays the brute, though the dragon remains a slumbering presence in his head. Will flees, and acquires a companion, Esme, a girlish creature who has sold her past and future memories in exchange for perpetual youth. After various adventures involving female centaur-soldiers, a refugee camp, a train journey across Fäerie and the local Gestapo, Will falls in with cheerful conman Nat Whilk. Together they arrive at Babel, a huge city that bears more than a passing resemblance to New York City, where Will disappears underground and falls in with a gang—until he discovers that the other gang members are merely figments of a crazy old elf’s imagination. Emerging from the dark, he meets and falls in love with Alcyone, a high-elven of royal blood; meanwhile, Nat hatches his greatest con, claiming that Will is the long-lost king of Fäerie.

Offering the message that humans, elves, dwarves, ghosts, demons, dinosaurs, basilisks, etc. are merely trying to get along and make a living, the book is impressive and often spectacular, but less than fully engaging.