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Book Review: The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

# Genre: Anthology/Short Fiction, Fantasy
# Hardcover: 448 pages
# Publisher: Ace Hardcover
# Publication Date: November 3, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0441017649
# ISBN-13: 978-0441017645
# Editor Websites: Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois

With Wizards master anthologists Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois gave readers a wonderful and unique take on an old standby of fantasy. Now these two set their sights on dragons, the most fabulous and most common of fantastical beasts. The Dragon Book collects original short fiction from some of the best writers in fantasy.

The anthology opens with “Dragon’s Deep” by Cecelia Holland. In this tale, a young village girl is captured by a dragon. Only her storytelling ability saves her from the dragon’s voracious appetite. Holland flips the expectations of the traditional prince, princess and dragon story. Though Holland’s intent is good, I felt that I just couldn’t get into the story, and that when the surprise conclusion is revealed, it lacks subtlety.

Naomi Novik gives readers a potential source for the dragon/human partnership in her Temeraire series. Reaching back into Roman history “Vici” tells the story of Antony, who rears a dragon, only to find that dragons in the capital city might not be such a good idea. Though entertaining, Novik’s tale seems to just be getting started when it ends. Perhaps that is good writing, leaving the reading wanting more, but I felt that I was left holding only a first chapter in a much larger story.

“Bob Choi’s Last Job” by Jonathan Stroud brings in the first eastern dragon of the anthology. Bob Choi hunts shape-shifting dragons that feed on the masses that populate the Far East. This story presents a vignette of one of Bob Choi’s famous hunts. Though the ending is predictable, the world that Stroud creates is fascinating and completely rejuvenates my mental image of the standard Eastern dragon.

Kage Baker turns the noble dragon into nothing more than a pest, on par with cockroaches or rats. “Are You Afflicted with Dragons?” is a hilarious tale with a surprise ending reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple mix the history of the Russian Jew and the mythology of the dragon in “The Tsar’s Dragons”. In essence, Yolen and Stemple create new origin or ending tales for key people of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The dragons, though a real part of the story, are also a metaphor for power, and the story becomes as philosophical as entertaining.

The conjuror hero of “The Dragon of Direfell” must solve the mystery of the recent series of dragon attacks plaguing his host’s manse. Liz Williams creates a twisting, snarled plot that keeps the reader continually surprised.

Peter S. Beagle’s “Oakland Dragon Blues” brings in the characters of an author, a cop, and a dragon to write a paean to the power of the imagination. Like most of Beagle’s urban fantasies, the tale is an extended metaphor, mixing the imaginary and the real together to create a sense of the ethereal. Wonderful reading.

“Human Killer” is a lengthy story about two pairs of heroes – a witch and her undead servant; a paladin and his female barbarian companion – who find themselves on the hunt for the very same dragon. Diana Gabaldon and Samuel Sykes create a humorous adventure tale that is less about the dragon and more about the motley crew of characters. These are characters I’d like to see again.

Garth Nix builds his story out of the history of the creation of the atom bomb, one of the most destructive “dragons” the world has ever known. But this is only subtly implied, as a story of an ancient man, and alien ship, and immortality are all intertwined into this most elegant of stories.

Sean Williams writes a story set in the world of his Books of the Cataclysm in “Ungentle Fire”. William’s dragons are something altogether different from any other you have ever encountered. A young magician finds himself the unwitting tool of these dragons, and finds that eventually, the student most leave his master and make his own way in the world. The unusual nature of the dragons makes this story particularly enjoyable.

“A Stark and Wormy Knight” is a bedroom story from the perspective of the dragon. Using unusual dialogue reminiscent of the kind found in Uncle Remus, Tad Williams twists the traditional knight versus dragon tale to make the dragon into the hero. This funny and adroitly plotted tale, with its perspective and clever dialogue is one of the best of the entire anthology.

In “None So Blind” Harry Turtledove describes a group of privileged scientists from a “civilized” society that go deep into the jungle to seek dragons. But though the find other fantastical creatures, these magic using explorers don’t find what they are looking for because they are blind to what is right in front of them. Turtledove’s contribution is a clever look at imperialist societies and the blindness to the truth that a supposed superiority of knowledge can bring.

Diana Wynne Jones creates a dragon infested horror story in “JoBoy”. A young boy who lost his father must find his real self, but there is as hitch, and only the help of another of his kind can save JoBoy. Jones’s story is a sad tale, though one that is unique and powerfully emotive.

“Puz_le” by Gregory Maguire is the story of a young girl who discovers the truth about her life through the rainy day activity of building a puzzle. This particular story is inventive for the way that it never has a live dragon in it, but at the same time keeps the dragon center stage of the story.

A fairy tale princess turned into a dragon only wants one more kiss from her brother to turn back into her human form. Bruce Coville relates the events that ensue “After the Third Kiss”. Coville’s story is full of political intrigue, magical potions, and all the aspects you usually expect from a fairy tale, but with completely unexpected consequences and a surprise climax you won’t see coming.

Tanith Lee’s “The War That Winter Is” tells of a frozen wasteland plagued each winter by an ice dragon. But when the ice dragon leaves behind a child for a shaman to find, it appears that the hero that the people of the north have been waiting for has arrived. But Lee does not make this a simple hero versus dragon story, and the ending is a complete 180 from the way you may have expected the story to go. Masterful.

Tamora Pierce writes a narrative set in her Tortall universe. “The Dragon’s Tale” is about a young dragon, unable to communicate with humans or animals, who discovers a woman who needs her help. Pierce’s story is an exciting tale of heroism against the odds.

“Dragon Storm” by Mary Rosenblum is an action-packed story in a unique world. When two children discover what appear to be eggs, they don’t know that they will be setting off a tidal wave of prejudice coupled with the discovery of a lost history.

Andy Duncan closes out the anthology with a dragon that is not a dragon in “The Dragaman’s Bride”. The protagonist, a young woman wizard, is traveling the South in a time not so long ago when forced sterilizations occurred in the Appalachian Mountains. Duncan’s story is equal parts history and whimsy, and what results is a tall tale with a distinctly Southern flair.

This anthology brings together new and inventive stories of everyone’s favorite magical creature. Dann and Dozois have collected a fairly strong collection of stories for The Dragon Book, although I found some the stories interesting for the metaphor, but not much more than that. If you enjoy dragons, you might like this anthology, but the reader more likely to enjoy this anthology are those who like literary fantasy, the type of story that is as much about what isn’t in the tale, as what is. I enjoyed it for the most part; Dann and Dozois laid sequence of stories well, so there are not too many sad stories in a row or too many humorous ones. It is a strong anthology, and a good companion volume to Wizards.

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