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The Dragons of Babel    by Michael Swanwick Amazon.com order for
Dragons of Babel
by Michael Swanwick
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover
* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Michael Swanwick has a unique writing style, and The Dragons of Babel showcases it well. In it, Swanwick turns fantasy on its head in a whirlwind of war, cons, deceits, and sex unlike anything seen before. Will le Fey is an orphan living in a small village with his blind aunt. Will's deceased mother never talked about his absent father, and all Will knows about his heritage is that he has some human blood in him. When a dragon - a war machine that is both made of iron and is alive - crashes into his small hamlet, Will, due to his human blood, becomes the dragon's lieutenant. Soon, Will is so much under the dragon's power that he kills his best friend. Forced to flee, Will escapes the villagers' wrath only to be saddled with another burden a little girl, Esme, who cannot remember anything about her past - a past that goes further back than even Will can guess.

On the run, the two make it to a refugee camp, and from there travel to the Tower of Babel, a rough city full of corrupt politicians and gang wars. Along the way, they meet up with Nat Whilk, a con artist who saves Will from the dreaded political police. Soon after reaching the city, Will is separated from his traveling partners, but becomes the leader of an underground gang. Once he finally surfaces, he meets up with Nat and Esme again, and the three live as family, running smalltime cons to get buy. Will takes a job doing barely-legal deeds for an alderman. When Will become too high-profile to continue this work, he goes back to Nat who starts planning his biggest con ever passing Will off as the lost Prince of Babel.

The Dragons of Babel is different from other fantasies in many ways. First, it is set in a world very similar to ours with technological advances such as TVs, motorcycles, and cell phones. Also, instead of focusing on folktale and mythology from only one region, Swanson incorporates supernatural and fey beings from all over the world - including centaurs from Greek mythology, haints from Caribbean superstition, kitsunes from Japanese folklore, and of course, those favorites of Western fantasy, faeries from the British Isles, just to name a few. Finally, The Dragons of Babel is not an epic tale of quests, but more a bizarre, disturbing series of strange situations that Will finds himself thrown into, some through his own doing, but mostly orchestrated by others.

Fantasy fans might find The Dragons of Babel hard to get into since it is so different from the rest of the genre. Plus, the novel starts off slowly and does not pick up until Will meets up with Nat. The events before this feel almost like part of another tale, although they are important to Will's character development. The story does come full circle at the end at a point reminiscient of where Will and Nat meet, furthering the feeling that this is where the real story begins.

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