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The Iron Dragon's Daughter
Michael Swanwick
Avon Books, 424 pages

The Iron Dragon's Daughter
Michael Swanwick
Michael Swanwick's latest novel is Jack Faust. His third novel, Stations of the Tide, won a Nebula Award for best novel of 1991. It was also a nominee for the Hugo Award, as was his novella, Griffin's Egg, and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in Britain. His first two published stories, The Feast of Saint Janis and Ginungagap were both Nebula Award finalists in 1980. Mummer Kiss was a Nebula Award nominee for 1981. The Man Who Met Picasso was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award in 1982.

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A review by James Seidman

The Iron Dragon's Daughter is not a new book -- it was first published in January 1994. Avon's latest printing is, however, the first trade paperback version of this unusual combination of science fiction and fantasy.

The story focuses around Jane Alderberry, a girl who was kidnapped from her family's suburban home. She now lives in the "upper world," a parallel world filled with a wide assortment of magical creatures such as elves, dwarves, nymphs, hags, satyrs, birdmen, and the like. Her captors keep her as a virtual slave performing menial labor in a factory making dragons, huge self-aware war machines made with advanced electronics and alchemy. Terribly out of place in a world with no native humans, she has trouble finding any solace, even among her fellow laborers.

Then, by chance, she finds something that will change her life: a grimoire describing the technical specifications for a dragon. After she spends some time furtively studying this book, she starts hearing a persuasive voice telling her she can escape. The voice belongs to Dragon 7332, who has his own hidden agenda for wanting Jane's help.

Jane and 7332 escape together, but 7332's injuries render him all but inoperable, leaving Jane to face the world alone. From going to school to shoplifting what she needs from the mall, she must be totally self-reliant. As she works to carve out a life for herself in this foreign world, she must also worry about 7332's secret plans and about the authorities searching for her.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a very gritty tale. The residents, from the decadent aristocratic elves to the depraved goblins, are like caricatures of human shortcomings. Swanwick's style is one that may seem gratuitous to some: he fills the book with gratuitous sex, gratuitous violence, and gratuitous profanity that add little to the story. While this material slightly emphasizes the baseness of the world, it does so at the cost of being distracting and offensive. In addition, the book has some sections where slow reading is necessary to figure out exactly what's happening in the confusing narrative.

Despite these shortcomings in writing style, The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a very original story, quite unlike any other story I have read. It has a dynamic, unpredictable writing style that succeeds in providing fairly consistent entertainment.

Copyright © 1997 James Seidman

James Seidman is co-founder and president of a small start-up company, which means that getting review copies of books is the only way he can afford to indulge his craving for science fiction. He lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and twenty-seven fish in Naperville, Illinois.

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