Title: The Dragons of Babel
Author: Michael Swanwick
Number of pages: 320
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 46/52
My Rating: 5/5

The life of young fey Will changes when a war dragon crashes in his village and, out of all village-folk, claims him as a lieutenant. Eventually Will is exiled. He has many unbelievable adventures and goes through many hardships before he discovers the truth.

The universe is a unique blend of magic and technology, and even our contemporary culture. The inhabitants range from familiar fantasy creatures (feys, centaurs, elves) to rare and original (haints, stickfella, Year-Eater); only humans are missing. Babel is a classic "noir" city, swamped with crime and corruption. The whole world is dark and cruel, revealed through rich details offered "as-is" without lengthy explanations. (It's the same universe as in The Iron Dragon's Daughter, but the story is less depressing, and even optimistic.) The plot twists and turns so much that it feels more like a patchwork of unrelated vignettes than a novel, but this approach worked for me.

Overall, it's weird, crazy and intense.
Title: The Iron Dragon's Daughter
Author: Michael Swanwick
Number of pages: 352
Genre: fantasy
Book Number/Goal: 13/50
My Rating: 5/5

This is a story of a human girl growing up in a magical world, struggling to survive by any means possible. The universe is unlike anything I've ever encountered. It's a dystopian society which seamlessly combines magic and technology. Everyone except for Jane, the main character, is non-human - there are elves, faeries, dwarves, nymphs, gargoyles, sentient machines and all kinds of traditional and non-traditional creatures. The environment basically mirrors our contemporary life except that it's more dark and brutal. Characters go to malls (where the time flow is stopped so the customers can enjoy shopping as much as they want), study for exams (the lowest 10% of students are killed off), make sex (unless virginity is essential for doing their jobs) and so on.

I love how the author describes numerous customs such as sacrifices, slavery and periodical purging of population in a mundane way without attaching any moral or emotional judgement to them besides what the protagonist feels about them (and her ethics is shaped by her environment). Jane is a sympathetic character, because she refuses to be a victim and uses everything to her advantage in spite of odds stacked against her. A lot of puzzling things are left unexplained but it doesn't spoil the story for me - to the contrary, it emphasizes the twisted, nightmare-like atmosphere. There's also a fair amount of sex which is not violent enough for my taste but still sufficiently depressing and dirty to fit the mood.

In short, it's an awesome book and I loved it to bits. Highly recommended to fans of elaborate and morbid fantasy.


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