❰PDF / Epub❯ ✅ The Iron Dragon's Daughter Author Michael Swanwick – Multi-channel.co

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10 thoughts on “The Iron Dragon's Daughter

  1. says:

    This is a very impressive and work of imagination, and while I've read better Swanwick, it's *still* Swanwick, and that means it's head-and-shoulders better than almost anything out there.

    This novel gives the illusion that it might be a YA, with a lot of impressive and delightful adventure elements, but it eventually turns into an adult romp full of sex, drugs, and stardom, only to eventually return to its adventure roots. So what makes this piece stand out? Jane is a great character with lots of sides to her, not just exploring what it means to be a woman in a thoroughly Misogynic Elf society, trying to find a piece of herself, her dreams, her sexuality, while all the while struggling against two great gods of the Steampunk/High Fantasy world.

    What's the Iron Dragon? An AI in a steampunk airship with cybernetic interfaces. Nicely SF.
    Are there Dwarves and Elves and Changelings throughout this University-Dominated setting? Why yes, yes, there is. :) Complex society, too. Very nicely Fantasy.

    Does the plot and the themes begin as a slow spiral only to end up in the center of all the conflict in a wild explosion of action? Why yes, yes it does.

    I really like this novel, and it really shines well in craft and characters, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't know where a lot of it was going until much later and it just seemed like it was drifting in dissolution. A lot of the plot events, including the mob scenes, play out the same feeling, of course, as well as the immense sense of loss, and while the reality of the author's intent was clear, our actual payoff feels far from clear. I get a few good impressions, and the visual imagery is grand, but then I wonder if this was still all about Jane's growth or not.

    I assume it is, and not the played-out grand conflict of gods. :)


  2. says:

    ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

    Some people don't like to admit that they didn't "get" a book, but I'm secure enough with myself to say that I didn't get this one.

    The Iron Dragon's Daughter started off well. Jane is a human changeling who works in a Faerie factory that makes flying iron dragons for weapons. Jane and the other child slave laborers (who are a mix of strange creatures) are entertaining and bring to mind Lord of the Flies and that scene in Sid's room from Pixar's Toy Story. Michael Swanwick's writing style is fluid and faultless. There are flashes of Valente-esque creativity: a timeclock with a temper, a meryon (whatever that is) civilization similar to that in A Bug's Life, a conniving jar-bound homunculus, gryphons who dive for thrown beer cans. I truly enjoyed these parts of the book and understand why Mr. Swanwick has won so many prestigious awards.

    But, after Jane escapes from the dragon factory, the whole thing plummets like a lead dragon and it never returns to its former glory. The writing style is still lovely, but the plot is — I don't think I've ever used this word in a review before — awful. I hated it.

    Jane was never a sympathetic heroine, but after her escape she turns into a remorseless foul-mouthed thief, drug-user, slut, and murderer. I didn't like her or any of her acquaintances. The plot had no order, the world had no rules, everything that happened seemed random, chaotic, and senseless.

    Knowing that other people have praised this novel and that it's sequel (The Dragons of Babel) was nominated for a Locus award, I pressed on. About two-thirds of the way through, I figured out that there was a method to the madness, but the chaotic nihilism was so disturbing that even though I realized it contributed to the entire philosophy of the novel, I still hated it. I think perhaps if I'd dropped some acid, the plot would have arranged itself better in my mind, but alas, I had none to hand.

    I think Michael Swanwick is a great writer, but The Iron Dragon's Daughter was weird, disjointed, obtuse, and inaccessibly bizarre.
    Originally published at FanLit.


  3. says:

    Faerie cyberpunk. Jane is a changeling, working as slave labour in the dragon factory. Her life is planned out for her, and it's not particularly pleasant path. Then she meets an iron dragon, and decides to rebel.

    This is a FANTASTIC book. The world is incredibly detailed and very well thought out.
    The only trouble is, it's about two books in one. We start off with Jane in childhood, and go through to her adulthood. Jane is wonderful. Smart, stubborn, not always especially moral and very, very angry.

    SPOILERS
    There is sex in this book. Jane has sex and enjoys it and doesn't get punished for it (other than having guys who she doesn't particularly WANT a lengthy relationship with hanging round. And that happens!). Some will see it as nihilistic and it's certainly very dark. She doesn't treat people well. She actually kills some blameless people to give her the means to escape. It's calculated, as well. It's certainly acknowledged as being morally wrong and Jane does feel guilty, but like most survivors she has the attitude of "I will think about that later".

    However, I found a theme of--dark hope, or acknowledgement of the human-ness of anger and defiance. Jane is trapped and stuck and she enjoys herself along the way, but she's always angry about it. And come the penultimate part of the book, in the Spiral Castle where she could very easily acquiesce and say "No, you're right, I'm nothing and I submit." she doesn't. She sticks her chin up and says "NEVER", fully expecting to be annhiliated.

    If you take the penultimate part of the book as the ending, it's actually a pretty powerful atheist statement. That anthropomorphising the cosmos is useless because it doesn't care about us. This rather bleak message is undermined by the very end.

    The ending is something that almost subverts the message of the entire book. The book is about--surviving, muddling through. Doing the best you can in a world which doesn't give you rules and has no purpose. But we see recurring characters in Jane's life. The same souls turn up again and again. The "goddess" in the spiral castle actually explicitly says that they're part of Jane's purpose and she just disregards them.

    The final part of the book reinforces that an individual's destiny is largely what they make of it themselves, but that other people and our treatment of them is the most important thing. It's gorgeous writing on from Swanwick, to see things that are foreshadowed and take forever to build up fall into place in the final chapter.

    In conclusion, a fantastic book. Highly recommended.


  4. says:

    One of the books on Mieville's list of 50 Scifi and Fantasy Books for Socialists, he tells you that it "completely destroys the sentimental aspects of genre fiction". And holy hell, please do take that warning seriously. Jane is a child-worker in a factory which is building treacherously aware warmachines made of cold iron. These "dragons" are enslaved to their pilots, wills broken by technology and magic, as Jane is essentially a slave to the factory. Until one of the dragons starts whispering to her of escape.

    This is a difficult book, and no mistake. It's endlessly surprising and inventive, deeply shocking, especially if you bring to it the expectations of genre fiction - it reminds me of a much older strain of speculative fiction; charged, full of ideas, unexpected, perhaps slightly more interested in plot and situation and its effects on character than in the characters themselves. But it's not an old-fashioned book. Technology exists alongside the magic of the Faerie (a disturbing vision of colleges of alchemy existing alongside air-conditioned malls, stealth dragons made of cold-iron fitted out with radar-jamming tech), our own mundane world is an acknowledged but separate plane of existence - Jane is a changeling stolen from our world and into the faerie, and her abduction isn't a romanticised transplantation into Faerie courts, but rather part of a healthy trade in child-trafficking and slave labour.

    Personally, I thought Jane was an excellent protagonist: resourceful, intelligent, but also deeply flawed. By turns compassionate and ruthless. The book is about her attempts to live her life, perhaps try to return to her mother and her blank-eyed physical body on "our plane", while navigating the political, social and economic world of Faerie that seems systematically determined to corner, manipulate, and lessen her. In this world, there are no last-minute saves, or unexamined heroics. Jane is far from noble, but endlessly human.

    If you're willing to give yourself to Swanwick's twisting narrative, Iron Dragon's Daughter is a rewarding, thoughtful, deeply engaging book that will stay with you.


  5. says:

    This book made me stabby.
    Feels of rage when I was done.
    Bad ending was bad.


  6. says:

    I read this book years ago, and it's one of those that really stick with you and rattle around in your head.

    If you've ever read classic, well respected literature, you know that the author is telling a raw and original story, and cares nothing about the reader's comfort along the way. That, to me, is the sign of a truly well-written book. You experience the human condition through the writing, and a good part of the human condition is NOT comfortable, pretty, or easy to face.

    The genius here (and why this book became such a phenomenon in the 90s), is that Swanwick took a genre that is notorious for NOT challenging the reader, for being overly comfortable, and not well respected, and elevated it.

    He uses a harsh world with class issues, and an imperfect main character (really, you expect a child slave with revenge issues to be a paragon of morality?), to emotionally exercise the reader in a manner usually expected when you sit down with a copy of Heart of Darkness, or Lord of the Flies. It will elevate you, it will floor you, and it will make you upset with the main character (because she's not perfect).

    Most of all, it will stay with you and change how you view a genre.


  7. says:

    I’d read some of the other reviews of The Iron Dragon’s Daughter on Goodreads, so I was forewarned that the author pulls a nasty trick on us around page 80. That still didn’t prepare me for how angry this book was going to make me.

    I picked up this book because it’s noteworthy for deconstructing a lot of stock fantasy tropes. It was published in 1993, when fantasy was deep in the ghetto of Tolkien knockoffs. A few years later, A Game of Thrones would start pulling the genre out of Tolkien’s shadow, and then Harry Potter would really get fantasy going again. But The Iron Dragon’s Daughter was a start. For one thing, this book has technology ­– at a time when most people had not heard of the word “steampunk.”

    Jane is a young human who’s been kidnapped by the Unseelie Court and forced to live in Fairyland. She works as a child laborer in a robot dragon factory (they work like sentient fighter jets). One day, one of the dragons begins speaking to her. It offers to help her escape if she repairs it. This dragon is quite evil, but they strike an uneasy bargain and they get out.

    At this point, you’d expect the story to be about Jane trying to get home while trying to cope with this dragon she can’t trust. You would be wrong. Over the course of a page or two, Jane becomes a miserable little crook bent on cheating, stealing, and fornicating* her way to the top of Unseelie society. She manipulates people. She lets her friends die to save herself. All of this would make for a fascinating villain if only there were any heroes in the story. There aren’t. All of the other characters are loathesome except for this one dude who keeps dying over and over and over again.

    It’s not bad writing. In fact, it’s quite good (Swanwick has won awards for some of his other works). What we have here is a talented writer who is deliberately trolling his readers. The theme of the book is that life is pointless and meaningless, though it stops to poke some cruel humor at yuppie culture along the way.

    I skipped ahead to see if Jane ever winds up in jail, which she so richly deserves. She does not.

    Swanwick, you don’t have to be like this. You don’t have to rip your subject to bloody shreds to write effective satire. Take Terry Pratchett, for example. This guy pokes holes in everything, literally everything. He’s done dwarves quaffing mead in taverns to lost heirs to the throne to the post office to image compression algorithms to Robocop. But no matter where the books go, they always circle back to two main messages: 1. You will die eventually. 2. The human spirit (or dwarven or vampire or what have you) is worth something.

    And frankly, that’s the sort of satire I’d rather read.

    * Sex magic. She doesn’t care for her partners, but she does use them to acquire power.


  8. says:

    So, you know the feeling you get when you encounter a difficult piece of artwork in a contemporary art museum? Maybe it's a small box left alone on a table. Maybe it's a cake made of plaster. Maybe it's a series of lights shone on a wall. You can pick up on a few clues as to what concept is being explored and what aesthetic is being showcased, but you get the sense that you might just not be intelligent or cultured enough to grasp the big, profound entirety of it all. And then it strikes you: maybe the artist is just fucking with you. You leave the museum in a disoriented state, wondering if you had finally experienced true art and whether you hated it or not. You decide it deserves three stars.


  9. says:

    This book is one of those rarities that make my brain a little bit numb from emotion storm. There is nothing coherent, just a storm of love, hatred, questions, guesses, objections, suggestions, alterations, admiration, amusement, dissatisfaction... I want more, but I know that there is no more and there must be no more - for all good things must end by their own will or be twisted into the MacDonald's-like things by others. Such books and the worlds they create is more like a glimpse in the dark. They flash before your eyes, they leave you with images, with seeds of desire, and they gone... they don't need our imagination, they are free from us.


  10. says:

    You'd be surprised how amazingly awesome a book that consists largely of depressing elf sex can be.