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The Dragons of Babel (Tom Doherty Associates Books) Hardcover – January 8, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this triumphant return to the universe of The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1994), Hugo-winner Swanwick introduces Will le Fey, an orphan of uncertain parentage. After defeating an evil mechanical war dragon who has enslaved him and his village, Will finds himself displaced by war, first imprisoned in an internment camp and then transported to the many-miles-high city of Babel. On the way, he falls in with Esme, an immortal child with no memory, and Nat Whilk, a donkey-eared confidence man of superhuman abilities. Fusing high technology seamlessly with magic, Swanwick introduces us to a wide range of marvelous conceits, fascinating digressions and sparkling characters. His language bounces effortlessly back and forth between the high diction of elfland and thieves' argot to create a heady literary stew. This is modern fantasy at its finest and should hold great appeal for fans of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys or China Miéville's novels. (Jan.)
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From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—An unusual combination of Faerie, postindustrial Earth, and biblical places, The Dragons of Babel will immediately capture readers' interest. A war is going on, but the "dragons" involved are part machine and part magic. One crash-lands near a Faerie village and declares itself king. Teenaged Will, part mortal, is forced to become its lieutenant and carry out its commands to the villagers, which eventually causes him to be driven out after it is killed. He is rescued by female centaurs during a battle of giants and ends up on the train to Babel accompanied by Nat Whilk and his adopted daughter, Esme. The three of them wind up in underground Babel (think New York City with a postindustrial fairy twist) where he helps the downtrodden. In a world full of every fairy imaginable (and maybe a few that aren't), Will becomes the center of Tower of Babel itself. Readers will empathize with the teenager, who is struggling to find his place in this world, and growing both in stature and knowledge, and the zany characters who accompany him. Earthy, bawdy, and often brutal, it's a story that will keep science fiction/fantasy fans involved till the end.—June H. Keuhn, Corning East High School, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Tom Doherty Associates Books
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765319500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765319500
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By booksforabuck VINE VOICE on March 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
He's just a country boy, living in a small village after his parents are killed by the war. But when a dragon crashes nearby and decides to make himself king of the village, Will Le Fey gets drafted as the voice of the dragon. That role gives him a certain amount of power, but it also earns him the hatred of everyone in town--and when his best friend decides to lead a resistance movement, Will finds himself in a no-win situation.

When war extends across the land, Will and many others become refugees, finally making his way to Babel, the center of the Empire. There he falls in with confidence men and dreamers--and becomes the catspaw for a clever scheme to take advantage of the absent king and place him in the position of pretender--with all of the financial benefits that might create.

Author Michael Swanwick creates a powerful world, where technology and magic coexist, where pointless war is waged over forgotten slights, and where the ruling elite parties, indulges in casual sin, and where both the mob and the elite dream of a return of the absent king--for very different reasons. It's hard not to draw parallels between Swanwick's fantasy world and the world in which we live (Babel's library has stone lions out front, and Will dreams of crashing dragons into the great tower of Babel), and piecing through the clues to figure out exactly what Swanwick is saying about our current situation is half the fun of the story.

Will has vowed revenge for the casual destruction the forces of Babel called down on his home, but the world seems uninterested in his vows, conspiring to defeat his dreams at the same time as it showers new opportunities on him. Clearly Will is being manipulated.
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Format: Hardcover
Swanwick is certinly one of the most original fantasists working today, and _The Iron Dragon's Daughter_ was perhaps his best (even though the evangelicals loudly denounced it). This one, while not actually a sequel, is set in the same world, which is a mish-mash of modern America and Faerie. You know you're there when the centaurs carry assault weapons, a high elf rides a Vespa, the haints play reggae, the royal palace includes rooms designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Cabinet of Curiosities displays both a stuffed capricorn and a Soyuz spacecraft. Will Le Fey is a young orphan subsisting in a rural village which is just trying to keep its collective head down while the endless war between East and West rages on. Then a war dragon (sentient, but with a half-human pilot) crashes and takes over the village for its own survival -- and appoints Will its lieutenant. When the dragon is killed (more or less), Will is forced out . . . and so begins a series of adventures in the classic pauper-to-prince picaresque tradition, from refugee camp to the tutelage of a master con man (keep an eye on him), to a period as an underground rebel leader, to his attempt to pass himself off as the lost heir of His Absent Majesty. (And, of course, there's more to the scam than he knows.) For all his occasional naivete, Will has innate cunning -- although when he tries to win the heart and hand of his True Love, who happens to be one of the ruling elite in the towering city of Babel (or maybe Babylon), the reader knows it won't be a sure thing. Swanwick's patented tongue-in-cheek cynicism and ability to make even temporary secondary characters interesting will keep you reading far into the night.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a notch below Dragon's Daughter. Maybe because "Daughter" was a true original and this is book is a sequel, but this book lacked the impact of Swanwick's first book. Swanwick's world is a dark place where magical creatures gave up their immortality in exchange for a moral existence, and they appear to be much the worse for it.

The buildup was good. Our hero got into one mess after another and his life just kept getting worse and worse. He had disappointment after disappointment. Then, he met Nat the con man and his luck begin to change, sort of.

The book started wandering about along several plot lines, but came together nicely in the last quarter of the book. But the last chapter was a bit of a letdown, unless you are into endings that are not really endings. The ending is the only reason I cant give the book a 5.
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Format: Hardcover
In the typical urban fantasy, beneath the "real" world of human science and rationality there hides a secret world of magical creatures and arcane magical practices. By contrast, in THE DRAGONS OF BABEL, the "real" world is a magical one inhabited by fairies, elves, boggarts, kobolds, and dragons who cast spells and glamors as a matter of routine. However, it is also a technological world where magical creatures listen to jazz, carry cell phones, ride motorcycles, conduct crooked ward-based machine politics, and keep Soyuz capsules in their royal collections. (It's not clearly spelled out whether anybody in this world is human, although our protagonist Will might be half-human, and I'm guessing that Duke Ellington and Mohammad Ali who are mentioned in passing are also meant to be human.) The results of this tweak of a familiar genre are often surprising an delightful.

I don't have much to say about the plot (which is fine, but described in detail by others), except that (a) it's an episodic, picaresque coming of age adventure story, not terribly different in form from zillions of others, and (b) while a single dragon we encounter at the beginning deeply influences the path that Will, our protagonist, follows, this book is NOT about dragons.

Swanwick's writing style is always vivid and fluent, but the language he uses varies from classic fairy tale "thee and thou" to contemporary urban slang. Images from classical mythology and mother goose rhymes are deliberately short-circuited or deflated (or probably reinflated -- since the Victorian era we've stripped away much of the rawness of myth and legend) with crude sexual innuendos and silly anachronisms. While this type of writing could easily become labored or tedious, I think that Swanwick pulls it off quite well.
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