Title: The Dragon Book
Author: Edited by Jack dann and Gardner Dozois with stories by Garth Nix, Tad Williams, Jonathan Stroud, Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, Sean Williams, Greg Maguire, Kage Baker, Peter S. Beagle, Bruce Coville, Andy Duncan, Samuel Sykes, Diana Gabaldon, Cecilia Holland, Tanith Lee, Naomi Novik, Mary Rosenblum, Harry Turtledove, Adam Stemple, Jane Yolen and Liz Williams
Publisher: Andersen Press Ltd
Publishing Date: Nov 5 2009
Hardcover: 448 pages
Stand Alone/ Series: All stories are stand alone
Why did I read the book: I was offered a review copy from the publisher and when I saw the awesome list of authors, I could not possibly say no.
How did I get the book : ARC from the publisher
I have a great admiration for those who write short stories. To be able to tell a complete story with beginning, middle and ending (or setting, conflict and climax) in such a short format can not be an easy task. So it is always with a certain amount of trepidation that I open short stories’ anthologies as (paraphrasing Forrest Gump) I never know what I am going to get. The Dragon Book contains 18 short stories and you know what? All of them are pretty good (although some better than others of course), which should come as no surprise since the stories are written by luminaries of the Fantasy genre, most of them with a lot of experience in writing short stories. There is obviously, a thread that links all stories in this collection – all of them feature dragons – but that is the only thing they have in common. The stories are as diverse as they can possibly be: some are set in medieval times, some in a contemporary world for example; some are funny, some are dark. Some have a fable feel with a moral lesson, some are surrealist explorations of what ifs. There are alternate history stories and stories set in a different world altogether. Some feature good dragons, other bad dragons, some even have dragons as the narrator.
Here is the rundown of stories:
Dragon’s Deep by Cecelia Holland
Poor fishing villagers are told they need to pay more taxes and they decide to travel up the shoreline to a dangerous place where they might find more fish. The main character is a girl who ends up being the sole survivor of the expedition after they are attacked by a dragon. She in entrapped in his lair and they strike up a relationship of sorts but she is never able to forget where she comes from. This is an old-fashioned tale (with a One Thousand and One Nights feel) where the moral of the lesson clearly points to the ugliness inside, once the girl goes back to the life she can no longer abide to. This one remained with me for a while after I read it.
Vici by Naomi Novik
A young man called Antony, who is always in trouble, is told he needs to kill a dragon in order to be pardoned or off with his head! Set in Ancient Rome, this is an alternate history story (one chance to guess WHICH Antony we are talking about here) and possibly the funniest and quirkiest of the collection with the relationship between Antony and Vici, the dragon, giving me the giggles. This is one of my favourites and one that makes me ask the inevitable question: why am I not reading Novik’s Temeraire books???
Bob Choi’s Last Job by Jonathan Stroud
Dragon hunter who is less human than he used to in order to hunt and which brings closer to the ones he hunts. This one has dragons cloaking as humans and interesting world building, which would make SUCH a good, different UF series.
Are You Afflicted With Dragons? by Kage Baker
A hotel owner who realizes he has a dragon infestation on his roof and has to resort to hiring a dragon specialist to get rid of them. Another funny and quirky one with an ultimate moral lesson which is: don’t play with fire (aha) and you will not get burned.
The Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple
Another personal favourite of mine. Alternate history in Russia circa Russian Revolution following around different characters, including a Jew who works for Lenin, a member of the Tzar’s aristocratic circle and Rasputin himself. This one is vivid, gripping and actually riveting as the Red Danger takes a whole new meaning here. Loved it.
The Dragon of Direfell by Liz Williams
A mage is called upon a state to help kill a dragon and finds himself facing something else entirely. Interesting world-building that mentions different creatures such as imps , mage and the Fey.
Oakland Dragon Blues by Peter S. Beagle
A policeman is called upon to clear a traffic jam to find out that what is blocking the road is an honest to god dragon. What is one to do? Part funny, part sad, rather poignant tale that also investigates what it means to be a writer and a storyteller. LOVED it.
Humane Killer by Diana Gabaldon and Samuel Sykes
Set in Medieval times. It shows the unlikely alliance between some of the weirdest characters that I have ever seen which include a medieval knight and his female warrior friend from the North, a witch and her revived zombie-like friend whom she calls Lenny, formerly known as Scourge of Savhael.This is one of the longest stories in the book and it opens as the witch is about to be burnt and is given a chance to live – she has to get rid of a dragon. Parallel to that, the Knight is given the task to kill the dragon in order to regain his father’s infamous Mace (used to killed Saracens in the Crusades) . They all meet in front of the Dragon’s cave and the story goes from there. I quite liked this one as well, for its surreal feel.
Stop! By Garth Nix
This one is a mix of Scifi and Fantasy. In the middle of nowhere, at a bomb testing site (about to go off!) a man, but maybe not a man, walks past the guards, in a non-stop mission. An altogether odd story setting it apart from the rest. And that is not a bad thing.
Ungentle Fire by Sean Williams
A Quest. A young man apprentice to a mage, needs to kill a dragon to finish his apprenticeship and be able to marry his sweetheart – but in the way, he revisits his past and thinks about his future and what he must do. This is a proper hero’s journey in which the young must stand against the old in order to become its own person.
A Stark and Wormy Knight by Tad Williams
How I loved this story! This is strictly from the dragons’ point of view, as mother dragon tells a story to help her dragonling to fall sleep. The story is about the fearful old days, when there were horrible, bad Knights going about killing their ancestors….and how their great-grandpap faced one of those terrible knights. But these days are gone, and dragons need to fear no more, because there are greater things that scare humans these days.
None so Blind by Harry Turtledove
A group of Europeans go around the new world’s jungle looking for dragons. On the way, they come face to face with creatures such as vampires and unicorns. This is a great little story exploring the difference between us x them or savages x civilised: as the supposed civilised people do not blink when creatures THEY believe in come out of the jungle and yet the refuse to believe in dragons because the “savages” believe in them.
Joboy by Diana Wynne Jones
The telling about The Destruction of London and the story behind it. A young boy whose father is mysteriously killed and who falls ill with a similar malady which symptoms includes tiredness and dryness. Very twisted Dragon and how one becomes one. It touches issues as adolescence and people having to admit about their dragons and what would happen if you don’t.
Puz-Le by Gregory Maguire
A young teenager stuck her mother when renting a cottage for holiday and starts to rain. She finds a weird puzzle with a dragon to pass her time and is completely engrossed with it. This is one story where I had the feeling that there was much more to come and it left me wanting more.
After the Third Kiss by Bruce Coville
A girl is cursed by her stepmother to become a dragon and the only way to become human again is for her brother to kiss her three times. This is what happens after those kisses, the consequences and sad, dark repercussions of it. There is a spin to a fairy tale (with frogs and dragons) and a bit of mystery behind it all.
The War that Winter Is by Tanith Lee
In ilo tempore: A tale of beginnings of times, maybe, where the dragon brings the cold. A group of nomads go around scavenging when they find the remains of a destroyed village and they save a baby who is to be The Hero. The hero grows up, and he is alien to the people that brought him up because of the very thing that allowed him to survive. Is he the same or is he the other? Very different story.
The Dragon’s Tale by Tamora Pierce
Another one where the dragon is the narrator and it opens:
“Bored, I was bored, bored, bored. If I spoke as two-leggers did, I could have made “bored” into a chant. “
This is set in the author’s Tortall universe and is a story of how the dragon (who is a teenage dragon in case you couldn’t tell by the quote) tries to find something to do while her human foster parents are taking care of grown up stuff. I like the magic system in this world and this is another one that had me wondering: why am I not reading her books?
Dragon Storm by Mary Rosenblum
A girl and a boy are out fishing when they come across a dragon’s egg about to hatch. The dragon proves to be from a species that was thought to be extinct and it is a surprise when the girl can actually communicate with the baby dragon. This one is about fear of the different, about bullies (who so deserve to become dragon food) and about friendship.
The Dragaman’s Bride
The final story in the collection and another favourite. Set in the US around the 30s, a crazy sheriff goes around entrapping teenage girls and boys and having them undergo surgery to prevent them from having children. Quite different tale, which includes a few ghosts, some imps, the devil’s son-in-law, a dragon with a heart of gold and a powerful witch who is the narrator. The fantasy creatures (including the devil’s son-in law) being much more amicable and compelling than the human ones. The perfect way to close the selection.
As you can see from my thoughts, I tend to prefer and gravitate towards the stories that are funnier and lighter but I think there is a little bit here for all sorts of readers.
Notable quotes/ Parts:
From Peter S. Beagle’s Oakland Dragon Blues. The cop tries to get the dragon to move and clear the traffic jam:
“Sir, I am not trying to start anything with you – I’m having enough trouble just believing in you. But I’ve got to get you out of this intersection before somebody gets hurt. I mean, look at all those people, listen to those damn horns.” The Racket was already giving him a headache behind his eyes. “You think you could maybe step over here to the curb, well’s talk about it? That’d work out much better for both of us, don’t you think?”
The dragon raised its head and favoured him with a long, considering stare. “I don’t know. I like this about as well as I like anyplace in this world, which is not at all. Why should I make things easier for you? Nobody ever cares about making anything easier for me, let me tell you.”
Additional Thoughts: there is a website for the book which includes all the authors and editors’ biographies and an excerpt of the book. Check it out: The Dragon Book
Verdict: If you like: Fantasy, Short Stories and Dragons, look no further than this book. It has a great variety of tales.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: One Con Glory by Sarah Kuhn