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The Iron Dragon's Daughter Paperback – September, 1997

3.7 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Swanwick's nihilistic tale features a human changeling who tries to make her way in a cutthroat society that mirrors contemporary life. While the players are elves, dwarves, lamies and other "magickal" creatures, they could be 20th-century juvenile delinquents and power politicians in a society ruled by caste snobbery, drugs, a mall culture and child labor. Determined to end her slavery in a steam dragon plant, the young human Jane escapes with the help of a rusted old dragon hulk named Melancthon. Thereafter, she goes to school disguised as a fey in order to learn the magic necessary to repair the ravages inflicted on the dragon by time and battle. But the misfit Jane finds school horrifying, and she turns to shoplifting to gain friends. She falls in love with a young man destined to be the annual sacrifice; when she loses her virginity, her usefulness to Melancthon as a magic-maker is ended. After her lover's tragic death, Jane is taken under the wing of a power-hungry elven lord, Galiagante. Eventually she joins Melancthon once again as he sets out to destroy the Universe. Nebula Award-winner Swanwick ( Stations of the Tide ) develops a powerful, yet dark and hopeless fantasy that should forever shatter charming illusions of Faerie and its folk.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When Jane, a human changeling, steals a magical steam dragon to escape the factory/prison that has been her home, she embarks on a life of freedom and normalcy in a world of timeless shopping malls, alchemy classes, and high school "wicker" queens--only to find that her stolen dragon has other, bigger plans that may change her life forever. Swanwick ( Stations of the Tide , Avon, 1992) brings his particular brand of elan to the fairy world, where high tech and magic are interdependent and where the denizens of folklore include leather-clad werewolves, half-elven pilots, and brash dwarven mechanics. Combining cyberpunk's grit with dystopic fantasy, this iconoclastic hybrid is a standout piece of storytelling.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Avon Books (September 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380730464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380730469
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Those who come to "The Iron Dragon's Daughter" expecting a straightforward fantasy story (or even a semi-straightforward steampunk story) are destined to be disappointed. It is a complex and open-ended book that places heavy demands on its readers. However, readers who struggle through the whole thing (and it wasn't a struggle at all for me -- I read the book in a few days, enjoying myself enormously after getting used to Swanwick's deliberate, meditative pace) will be rewarded by a book that is intricate, delicate, and possessing an optimism that completely belies its surface darkness.
Its plot is convoluted and fugal: the same set of themes is repeated three times, and then, in a coda which is _not_ the equivalent of "then she woke up", is repeated as a counterpoint for a fourth, final time. The characters are difficult and often unsympathetic: the changeling child Jane, who sits at the focus of the book, possesses such a weak moral compass (and suffers so much abuse) that by the end of the novel, even the most sympathetic of readers will have given up on her. Finally, the questions posed by the novel are not resolved in any straightforward way: much of the most interesting information in the book is buried in implication, and some things we just aren't meant to figure out.
The surface story is simple: Jane is a changeling girl, a drudge straight out of Dickens who labors endlessly in a large and grimy dragon factory. The dragons are one of the first of many delights in the novel, being sentient and ruthless stealth weapons used by the elven overlords of Jane's world in their endless battles for supremacy. They are, in short, total cyberpunk wish-fulfillment devices.
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I initially read and finished this book at the age of 13 (I'm now 28) on the car ride home from a trip a few states away. As soon as I got home I went out with a friend and got into an accident resulting in a severe head concussion. I've spent my time since then with incredibly bizarre partial memories of happenings in this book and up until a few weeks ago had not tracked down and reread the book to make any sense of it.

Let me tell you... this book is a terrible book to have fragments of floating around in your brain. At first glance you pick up the book and read the back. You'd think to yourself "Oh great. This sounds wonderful". You'd think the story is about a young girl in an incredible fantasy land stuck as a slave in a factory creating magical beasts of iron while always dreaming of escape. You'd think she makes lots of friends and meets some shady characters and maybe by the end she might escape this nightmare of a factory.

You'd be wrong.

The back of the books covers roughly the first 4 out of 24(?) chapters. After the fourth chapter the book takes a radical turn where the reader is trust into an even more dangerous and adult fantasy universe. You travel with the character Jane as she learns about the world and builds her own experiences maturing into an adult. Along this experience she encounters many men, wild sexual adventures, magic, drug and substance abuse, and people out to get her or use her for their own misdeeds. After finishing the book I was pretty blown away at how perverse and adult the themes of the book are for something I read before gaining any of those particular experiences of my own. From what I remember of the book felt very dark and negative. It was truly shocking and disgusting in ways and my memories are very sickening.
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Format: Paperback
In a '99 interview with Infinity Plus, genre-defying author Michael Swanwick compared the modern novels of self-alleged fantasy writers to seeing "the woods I used to play in as a child [being] cut down to make way for shoddy housing developments."

I imagine that, in rage or protest, he wrote this atheist's bible to make his mark on (or correct) a world and universe he loved. This is what we get:

Swanwick gives us Jane, a lone human in a friendless, brutal world of steampunk and magic. One of the first things I noticed was the lack of family: siblings, friends, and most importantly, parents. There is no nurturing in this evil world, only lawless, ladder-climbing competition and blood sport by magic and drugs.
Jane's story is told in 4 very different chapters, each with its own heartwrenching criticism of fantasy and the real-life modern age. This pitiful creature is expected to compromise her humanity so often and so violently that the reader must stop rooting for her. She's despicable. She, like all of us, does what it takes to survive in a hostile world.

But so much like the life Jane learns to hate, amid the cruelty of it all there is wonder and beauty unlike any other piece of literature I have ever witnessed. This is a shockingly unique, alarmingly lonesome take on JUST HOW MUCH could go wrong when you're down on your luck. A tragedy in four parts: indentured adolescence, ritual sacrifice in the public education system, the battle royale of coming-of-age, and a terrifying, nihilistic end to it all.

When she's just a little girl working off her servitude and juggling the rape of her body and mind, Jane kills her captors and escapes the factory, leaving her peers behind.
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