Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois have been putting together themed anthologies for approximately 20 years now; The Dragon Book is their 2009 entry in this sort-of series. Arguably, Dozois is one of the most renowned anthologists (Datlow, Greenberg, and Hartwell/Kramer being the other luminaries) in the genre so an invitation to contribute to an anthology in which he is (one of) the editor(s) is a sign of acceptance in the genre. In this volume he and Dann have pulled together an eclectic array of stories featuring perhaps the most iconic figure of fantasy literature from a solid group of contributors.
Dragon’s Deep by Cecelia Holland starts off the anthology in a very powerful way. In a barbaric society, dragons are feared and few even believe they are real. That is, until one attacks a group of people fishing on the sea. One surviving girl, Perla, comes to know the dragon and what she learns about the dragon and through the dragon opens her eyes to the wider world. Holland crafted an engaging and sufficiently realized world in the story that could easily bear the fruit of future stories.
Seemingly set in her popular Temeraire universe, Vici by Naomi Novik takes place during the height of the Roman Empire. The story is a very engaging mix of history and fantasy and Novik’s pairing of human and dragon is as plausible, maybe more so, here than in her novel length fiction.
One might think placing a dragon in what, on the surface, seems a hardboiled detective novel is a difficult proposal. Jonathan Stroud disproves that thought in Bob Choi’s Last Job, a story in which shape-shifting dragons who behave badly are tracked down. The mood and setting complemented each other quite effectively.
The con-story or even a mini-caper could easily describe Are You Afflicted with Dragons by Kage Baker. Baker’s humor flavors this story and the characters are well drawn. I found myself smiling quite a bit whilst reading this one and found the ending very satisfying.
Peter S. Beagle needs little introduction to fantasy readers. In Oakland Dragon Blues, a fictional dragon comes to life demanding an end to his story. This was one of the stronger stories in the collection as it touched upon the power of story and imagination.
Garth Nix injects a strange creature into a war-torn modern setting in Stop! This story felt realistic in many ways and was more powerful for the mystery surrounding the appearance of an enigmatic figure. The story is haunting and implies much about the strange encounters people tend to simply explain away.
Set in his sprawling Books of Change/Books of the Cataclysm, Ungentle Fire by Sean Williams tells a very engaging story of one characters rite of passage. Williams tells the story in such a way that readers unfamiliar with his series will enjoy the story, in terms of effectively providing enough details about the fantastical world in which the story takes place. The story has a great beginning, which flowed well through the middle and ended in a very gratifying manner.
Tad Williams plays with language and communication in A Stark and Wormy Night. The clever trick of the story posits humans as the legendary creatures and dragons as the dominant and ‘real’ species of the world. This story was quite a bit of fun.
JoBoy by Diana Wynne Jones is another powerful tale, perhaps the most emotionally powerful story in the collection. Jones plays with the themes of lost parents, neglected children and finding one’s inner voice. While those ingredients might seem a to make for a rather nice coming of age story, the story was more somber and all the more effective because of it’s fable-like hints.
Gregory Maguire’s Puz_le deals with the power of creation and imagination, and how those two can come together powerfully. The story also encompasses the elements of expectations and satisfaction and blurs the line between fantasy, art and reality to very good success.
In The Dragon’s Tale, Tamora Pierce captured the awkwardness of youth very well in this story and did a good job of contrasting childish human behavior with the noble heart of a monster.
Dragon Storm by Mary Rosenblum posits a diverse set of dragons in her world and how those dragons and humans just might learn to communicate. Like Holland’s story, Rosenblum sets a good portion of her story and dragons at sea. The story is more about the beginnings than it is about endings, is paced quite well, and does a fine job of making dragons seem, if not quite real, then very possible.
Andy Duncan tells a down-home tale in The Dragaman’s Bride. At times, following the protagonist’s narrative is like listening to an old friend tell you about a local legend. The Dragaman seems part devil part dragon, sort of like Old Scratch.
Other stories include: The Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple; The Dragons of Direfell by Liz Williams; Human Killer by Diana Gabaldon and Samuel Sykes; None So Blind by Harry Turtledove; After the Third Kiss by Bruce Coville; and The Wit that Winter Is by Tanith Lee.
Dann and Dozois should be commended for brining such an eclectic mix of stories and authors together under two covers. Each story had its own strengths and provided a different flavor of dragon. Some stories would be great entry points for either their authors fiction or possibilities for future stories.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford