Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Dragon Book

Authors: Cecelia Holland, Naomi Novik, Jonathan Stroud, Kage Baker, Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple, Liz Williams, Peter S. Beagle, Diana Gabaldon, Samuel Skyes, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Tad Williams, Harry Turtledove, Diana Wynne Jones, Gregory Maguire, Bruce Coville, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Mary Rosenblum, Andy Duncan
Editors: Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin
Copyright: 2009
Genre: Fantasy, Short Stories

(I found this book from reviews on Misty's Book Mess and About Books.)

Nineteen stories, from twenty-one authors, all about dragons, makes for a really wide variety in so many ways. Some stories are funny, some are moving; some are serious, some are sarcastic; some are mythical, some are modern. It was great to read such a wide selection, especially because I hadn't heard of most of these authors before. Each story is preceded by a biography of the author and a list of some of the works he/she published. This gave me the opportunity to sample all these authors and get a broader picture of the fantasy world. And the differences of each story made for a fascinating read! The tones, settings, and ideas of dragon-ness are different from story to story, so it's an interesting mix. I liked that I was reading one story about dragons in fantasy worlds, and the next about dragons in the crosswalk of a modern-day city. Or one where dragons are your typical flying lizard-like creature who breathe fire, and the next where dragons are made of ice and breathe frost!

As H of About Books points out, some of the stories seem to have been written only for the sake of including a dragon: "they were clever in their use of dragons, but that seemed for some of them to be their only aim." However, I don't see that as a drawback. Certainly, in some stories, nothing much actually happens, but I think the point of this book was accomplished - the legend of dragons is explored from many angles, and some fresh ideas about dragons are introduced.

I can't review all the stories, but I'll comment on a few:

"The Tsar's Dragons" by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple is a retelling of the Russian Revolution to include dragons. I loved the humor in this rather long story, and the way dragons were integrated into the story so that it seemed like they were always a part of it. None of it seemed forced, and the dragons' presence was natural.

"The Dragon's Tale" by Tamora Pierce tells a story about Skysong, or Kit, from the Tortall Immortals series. This was a story that did have a clear plot and told an actual story. My one disappointment was the lengthy introduction. I think the story stands alone, even though Daine and Numair really belong to a longer series, and the explanations weren't really necessary to the story. That said, though, the story was a really great one to read.

My favorite story by far was "A Stark and Wormy Knight," by Tad Williams. As the title indicates, the point of this one was not so much the events but the playful romp with language. A dragon mom tells her baby dragon a bedtime story about his "great-grandpap" or "g-g" or "pap's grandpap" or "pap's pap's pap," in which the dragon tries to get out of fighting the knight who came to rescue the princess that the dragon took. As with the naming of the ancestor dragon, the entire story is really about language - many synonyms are introduced for the same object, words are made up (all easily recognizable for their intended meanings), cliches are mangled - as in "a stark and wormy knight" - so that they mean something else. I laughed my way through this and had to stop to read some passages aloud. A really fun read!

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