The land is ravaged by war and strife. Dragons piloted by elves with mortal blood flowing through their veins fly the skies. These dragons are not ones entirely of flesh-and-blood, but are biotechnolgical hybrids. Although the city of Babel is a central character in this story, The Dragons of Babel remains at its core a tale of Will coming to grips with his past, present and future – whatever it may be – and in so doing, ordinary dragons, if such things ever existed–no, they are biotechnological marvels, which run on fuel and drop bombs upon their enemies. One of the only creatures who can bring about their deaths are the basilisks. When several dragons fly above Will le Fey’s village one day, and a basilisk brings one of the dragons down, the creature is not quite killed–instead, though its wings have been torn from its body and it is injured, the dragon is still powerful enough to make itself the king of Will’s village.
Will le Fey becomes the dragon’s assistant and lieutenant. At first, Will cooperates because the dragon forces him to, piercing his wrists with needles and invading his body and mind. The dragon insists upon learning Will’s true name, so that he can have even more control over him; but, Will is enable to tell the dragon, as he doesn’t know himself what his birth name is, having either never known or forgotten. The dragon learns that Will is a mortal, and has one hundred percent human blood in him, which potentially makes him into a candidate to be his pilot.
The first part of the novel by Michael Swanwick, rereleased in paperback by Tor, The Dragons of Babel, is about the relationship that develops between Will and the dragon. Will leaves behind his old friends, including Puck Berrysnatcher, whose leg gets blown off by a landmine. Puck gets placed into a coma by the healing ladies of the village, and buried in a swampy area. When he is revived a week later, his hair has turned white, and he now turns against Will, organizing a group of youths to fight against the dragon.
Besides the relationship that develops between Will and the dragon, the first half of the novel is also about Will’s exile from his village brought about by a showdown with the dragon, and his arduous trip to Babel. The novel is set in the same universe as The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1997). On Will’s train ride to Babel, he is joined by two companions: a magically-touched girl name Esme and a donkey-eared con man named Nat, who has many other aliases. I won’t get into many other details, because I don’t wnat to spoil the plot for anyone who would like to check this great novel out, but Will and Nat come up with a con whose consequences resonate throughout the novel.
Michael Swanwick is excellent at worldbuilding, with Babel itself becoming a major “character” in the novel. It is a fully realized world, and there is a lot of room for the author to continue the series with sequels. It’s difficult to classify The Dragons of Babel as being more of a Fantasy novel, or a science fiction one. It’s not really a Steampunk one, as there are no inventions that rely on steam power, so I’ll say it’s a Fantasy novel with science fiction elements to it. But, it’s also more than this; it’s a coming-of-age narrative, filled with political intrigue, and it’s a who-done-it, a romance, and a story about a father’s and son’s love, among other things.
The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick is a page-turning novel that fans of both the Fantasy and SF genres will love reading. There are dragons, basilisks, and other cool legendary creatures to please Fantasy fans, and enough mention of technological advances that readers of SF should get into this terrific book. Add it to your reading lists today!