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The Dragons of Babel

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  907 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews
Michael Swanwick has been nominated for the Hugo Award for his writing fourteen times in the last ten years and has won five of them. He is one of the most important and respected living writers of fantasy and science fiction. Until now, his most famous fantasy has been the groundbreaking novel The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. And now Swanwick returns to the world of that novel ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Tor Books
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Michael Swanwick writes excellent short stories, but has trouble with novels. Although presented as a novel, this is actually a series of short stories with a flimsy (and transparent) plot linking them.

I was tempted to rate it lower because two of the short stories making up the book were already published before, and also collected in The dog said bow wow. And I hate getting duplicates of stories, which is why I do not usually buy multi-author compilations.

But that would be unfair to the book i
Jan 14, 2008 Amaha rated it really liked it
If you like fantasy, or if you sometimes like fantasy but find yourself consistently disappointed by how badly written and lazy most works of fantasy are, then read this book. Like Swanwick's legendary book The Iron Dragon's Daughter, it's set in the "fairy realm", but in a Faerie that isn't frozen in the Dark Ages: it has industrial technology, capitalism, nightclubs, nation-states, and even the beginnings of a representative democracy. Their world looks a lot like our world, but as you might e ...more
Jan 10, 2009 Cynth rated it it was ok
I'm still not sure how I feel about this book. It's unlike anything I've read. The story starts out one way, the second half feels like the author switched stories on you, and the end....I'm really not sure how the end ties to the first part of the book. the author introduces certain characters who you expect would play a big role and this is not the case. There are also pivotal scenes that you expect would lead to some major action at the end, and this does not happen. This felt like a book the ...more
May 29, 2009 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: high-fantasy
Two snippets that I really like, maybe not much to do with the book: "...To recognize the illusory nature of your own being is to flirt with its dissolution. To become one with everything is to become nothing specific at all." And, "There were two detectives in the frigid trench coats that looked like they had been sent out to be professionally rumpled."
This is a superb book. Swanwick's prose is effortlessly fine, his characters squalid and heroic and all points between. There is
May 12, 2008 Adam rated it really liked it
Shelves: steampunkery
Remember that urban legend of razor blades hidden in Halloween treats? Swanwick does the literary equivalent of this, creating a fantasy world that includes all our myths and folklore along with our shadowy impulses and iniquities. A wonderful skewering of the hero’s quest that lingers at the heart of all traditional fantasy, this follows the picaresque adventures of Will le Fay as he moves through surreal set pieces on his journey to be king. All traditions are scorned and you get stories on st ...more
May 21, 2010 Steven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure Swanwick's successful in combining postmodern self-referencing, steampunk fantasy, a Bildungsroman and a critique of military adventurism and the notion of spreading democracy by force (complete with obligatory 9-11 reference), but hell, it's more ambitious than a lot of fantasy.
Jun 15, 2011 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook, favorites
This is the first book I have read by Michael Swanwick and the experience has quickly elevated him to my short list. I will be reading more.

The Dragons of Babel is set in a world where science and fantasy collide. Each new juxtaposition of the mythical and the ordinary surprised me at first, had me grasping for a way to classify what I was reading. Soon enough, however, I forgot to notice the differences and became caught up in the story.

The story is wonderful. It is a twist on a classic tale,
April Helms
Sep 06, 2009 April Helms rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult
I can best describe this story as a Gotham City meets Dungeons and Dragons. You don't read a lot of fantasty stories that mention elves and haints in one chapter, then Blackberries and El trains in the next. When reading the first few chapters, I had the suspicion that the story seemed familiar. It was. "The Dragons of Babel" actually started out as a short story, "King Dragon," in "The Dragon Quintet," which I read a few years ago. The story centers on Will, who at the beginning is a boy raised ...more
Bill Blume
Feb 04, 2013 Bill Blume rated it it was amazing
Reading THE DRAGONS OF BABEL proved a strange journey for me, which is somewhat appropriate given the book itself is an incredibly bizarre tale. The book was lent to me by a friend who was curious to see what I'd think about it. Perhaps the best way to describe this novel would be to take every bit of mythology and folklore, a copy of "Alice in Wonderland" and enough pop culture to provoke a diabetic seizure, shake it all up, add a dash of Stephen King, spill the resulting brew out into a tradit ...more
Oct 18, 2008 Wealhtheow rated it really liked it
Set in the same world as The Iron Dragon's Daughter. Will is a happy-go-lucky fairie peasant boy--until a draconic cyborg machine of death crash lands in his village. The dragon chooses Will to be his mouthpiece and spy, which makes him grow up very fast and very dark. Eventually, Will escapes to the city, where he adventures first as a vigilante in the sewers and then as a conman in high society.

Unfortunately, this book doesn't hold together quite as well as The Iron Dragon's Daughter. It beg
Guy Haley
Aug 22, 2014 Guy Haley rated it really liked it
I absolutely loved The Iron Dragon's Daughter, picking it up after I read the first part of this follow-up as a short story. The sheer inventiveness of that segment had me hooked, wherein a wounded mechanical dragon - an aircraft of a machine-age fairyland - crawls into a village and promptly sets itself up as king. I don't buy a lot of books, despite reading plenty. Yeah, that sounds immensely hypocritical for an author. But most of my reading time is taken up reviewing (copies provided) or res ...more
Searska GreyRaven
Apr 17, 2014 Searska GreyRaven rated it it was amazing
This is one of the few books where I absolutely didn't see the ending coming. I loved it. ^_^
Sarah Lawrence
This has got to be one of the most original worlds I've read about in a long time. It took me quite a while to get used to--maybe as much as a quarter of the book--but it was well worth it in the end. What started out looking like a typical medieval-ish fantasy actually has a lot of very modern elements: refrigerators, subways, and motorcycles, to name a few.

But it's also a great melting pot of fantasy creatures and elements from all over the world. There's a definite favoring of the Fertile Cr
Spike Anderson
May 19, 2015 Spike Anderson rated it it was ok
I read the first chapter as a short story and thought it was top 5 ever. This book is the attempt to turn that short story into a novel. It didn't work well. Amongst my many troubles w the book is this sizable middle section of the protagonist leading a rebellion that turns out to be an illusion, this a waste of pages. Almost like a story that ends with the final line: but then I woke up and realized it was all just a dream". Total cop-out. This is my 2nd Swanwick novel, I doubt I will try a 3rd
Mar 12, 2012 Jurgen_i rated it really liked it
As a whole, this book is really good. However, the beginning is very poor, i forced myself to read till the page 70 or 80: a village almost completely from the agrarian era and battle aircrafts flying over it. Yes, they are called dragons and are conscious, but made of steel (!), full of electronics, accumulators and fuel, armed with missiles. Manufacturing, magic, and old refrigerators at a dump. What a crap! But not only the world is tasteless and poor, but also the plot shines with its banali ...more
May 25, 2009 CD rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: grades 9 and above
Recommended to CD by: YALSA, Alex award winner
I just shut the book of this delightful gem of a dark fantasy, steampunk novel. What a kicker of an ending. It appeared on the Alex Award winner list and sounded like something I would like as the Starlog likened it to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Mirrormask. Mention Gaiman's name and I am your girl, so it was a no brainer to grab this one up off the YALSA picks display.

Recommend this book for any of your older teens who like dark fantasy. It definitely has a steampunk sensibility, but I wouldn
Aug 13, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's the surprising blend of the familiar modern world with the epic fantasy saga that drew me into this book. It's within the first few paragraphs that I recognized this is a diverse world, as soon as the dragons are described as having jet engines. Add to that an amazing lyric prose, and I've found a new favourite author.

I recognized the first few chapters when I started reading Dragons of Babel, and for a moment had wondered if I'd read this story before. I later figured that those first few
Dec 18, 2011 Jean rated it it was ok
It’s disappointing to find a book as well written as “The Dragon’s of Babel” that was so lacking as far as pure story and character goes. This book had so many things going for it. Swanwick has a great narrative voice, and a very clever way of describing this world that he created. The mixture descriptive humor, clever use of real technologies, and unapologetic use of magic made so many passages in the book a delight. And the creativity of the world was just brilliant – I loved every location th ...more
It starts as a tale of a dragon and his boy. Fearsome mechanical dragon injects boy with its needle and boy becomes the dragon's mouthpiece in the village he occupies. It turns into a tale of the conflict and struggle the boy faces due to his connection with the dragon. The second half is a well written tale of political maneuvers and society ladder climbing set in a futuristic metropolis fantasy world.

I'm kinda torn on this one. This is one of those books that started on a high note then plumm
Feb 24, 2012 Sami rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
I began this book without realizing it was the second in a series. This was also one of the first steampunk books I've ever read. It was well written and I really enjoyed the ending. Yet, I cannot give the book a higher rating because I didn't "really like it". While that may be my own fault (not familiar with the genre/not reading the first in the series), I found myself unhappy with the pace of the book, confused about where it was going and unable to attach to any of the characters. The story ...more
Clay Kallam
Jul 01, 2009 Clay Kallam rated it really liked it
WMichael Swanwick’s ‘The Dragons of Babel’ (Tor, $25.95, 318 pages) is the second novel set in an alternate universe that mixes old-fashioned fantasy (monsters, magic, lost princes and charming rogues) with a grimmer 21st century vision (modern cities in decay, corruption, disillusionment), and though it’s not quite a classic, it’s a great read.

First, there’s no need to have read ‘The Iron Dragon’s Daughter,’ which was written in 1993, so don’t worry about getting lost. The hero, Will le Fey, fo
Jun 03, 2012 Lucas rated it really liked it
Not quite as good as Iron Dragon's Daughter. Like IDD, it has a series of disconnected stories centering on a central character. The book is a picaresque, and these sort of vignettes tend to be much shorter and less related than IDD, which ends up being the major shortcoming. While IDD lead through an arc to an inevitable conclusion, Dragons of Babel seems to spontaneously generate its metaplot in the final seconds of the book, which feels a little cheap. Additionally, the last quarter or so of ...more
Charlie Jenkins
Apr 28, 2011 Charlie Jenkins rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 03, 2013 Rachel rated it liked it
I tentatively gave this three stars for several reasons...from a literary perspective, it deserves at least three stars, but from a Christian perspective, it shouldn't even have a full star. It is trashy...VERY trashy. Profanity and sexual scenes riddle the story... I would only recommend this to people who are good at disconnecting from what they are reading when it comes to language and sexuality. I know that I should not have finished this book for that reason.

On the flip side, the way the st
Feb 16, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
In Dragons of Babel a boy named Will le Fey, after being forced to serve a mechanical dragon, is exiled from his community. On his way to Babel, where he seeks revenge, he encounters a strange girl named Esme who is an eternal child and cannot form new memories. He also meets a con man who offers to train him and convinces Will to participate in the biggest "scam" in history. Will, plagued by the dragon's lingering and violent presence in his thoughts, must use all his wits and lessons before ...more
mistie k
Feb 27, 2010 mistie k rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 06, 2009 Willa rated it it was ok
I honestly can't really decide why I didn't like this book. My best guess is that the writing style irked me. It's well-written, sure, but the writing feels ugly to me. Whereas other authors to whose work this has been compared (Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Gene Wolfe) write beautifully. Their stories may not always be pretty, but the way they tell them always is. This story - or more accurately, string of stories - just seemed graceless by comparison.

Also, I could never really get 'a feel'
Mar 12, 2011 Kierstyn rated it really liked it

Michael Swanwick’s The Dragons of Babel is a book that had me instantly intrigued. The beauty of Michael Swanwick’s writing brought me to the edge of my seat, and hungry for more. It’s a fast paced, heart-pounding, unpredictable thrill of a ride that you don’t want to end. You won't be able to put the novel down from start to finish.

The story follows the life of a young man by the name of Will Le Fey. We first meet Will as a young, curious, adventurous, and determined boy. Will places himself in
Feb 09, 2010 Wile rated it it was amazing
Shelves: blurb-reviews
Mere superlatives cannot describe this book. It is, simply, one of the best fantasy novel I have read in years - and I read a great many novels.

Rather than writing a traditional novel plot, Swanwick adapts the classic oral tradition of the hero's quest - a series of varied adventures where the hero gains the skills to accomplish the quest he set out to do. While the language is modern and beautiful, the structure flows like a classic tale like Beowulf or the Odyssey. Be prepared for the unconven
Jul 04, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This book is a whirlwind of experiences as Will traipses through his life, starting out as a small boy in his rural village, rather naive. Everything changes when a War Dragon crashes, and declares himself mayor, and Will finds himself recruited as his lieutenant, and he becomes part errand boy and part spy for the dragon.

In time, Will frees himself and the village from the dragons' control (more or less), but finds himself kicked out of the village - the only home he has known. And this is whe
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“A hippogriff flew past, trailing laughter. It came so close to Will that he could smell its scent, a pungent mixture of horse sweat and milky pin-feathers, and feel the wind from its wings. Its rider’s hair streamed out behind her like a red banner. Will stared up at her, awestruck. The young woman in the saddle was all grace and athleticism. She wore green slacks with matching soft leather boots and, above a golden swatch of abdomen, a halter top of the same green color. She was glorious. The rider glanced casually down and to the side and saw Will gawking. She drew back on the reins so that her beast reared up and for an instant seemed to stall in midair. Then she took the reins between her teeth and with one hand yanked down her halter top, exposing her breasts. With the other hand, she flipped him the finger. Then, jeering, she seized the reins again, pulled up her top, and was gone. Will could not breathe. It was as if this stranger had taken a two-by-four to his heart. All in an instant, he was hers.” 1 likes
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