Here there be dragons . . .
From China to Europe, Africa to North America, dragons have long captured our imagination in myth and legend. Whether they are rampaging beasts awaiting a brave hero to slay or benevolent sages who have much to teach humanity, dragons are intrinsically connected to stories of creation, adventure, and struggle beloved for generations.
Bringing together nearly thirty stories and poems from some of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers working today— Garth Nix, Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, Beth Cato, Zen Cho, C. S. E Cooney, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Elliott, Theodora Goss, Ellen Klages, Ken Liu, Patricia A McKillip, K. J. Parker, Kelly Robson, Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, Elle Katharine White, Jane Yolen, Kelly Barnhill, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Gailey, and J. Y. Yang—and illustrated by award-nominated artist Rovina Cai with black-and-white line drawings specific to each entry throughout, this extraordinary collection vividly breathes fire and life into one of our most captivating and feared magical creatures as never before and is sure to become a treasured keepsake for fans of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales. – Goodreads
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.
Overall this is a great collection of stories. What most impressed me about the collection as a whole was the sheer variety of genres, styles, and dragon types collected here. Usually when you have a genre/theme based anthology you get at least two or three stories similar enough that they are a little hard to distinguish between after you put the book down. No two dragons are quite alike, either, across the 23 stories presented here. Last, there was not a single piece I gave 1 star to, which is a first for me in anthology reviews.
In addition to evaluating the usual factors such as idea, plot, characters, pacing, and language use, I also considered how well dragons were used in the story and how well the story stood on its own.
Note: I did not review the poetry pieces in the book. I don’t read that much poetry so my rating for each was based purely on how much I did or did not enjoy it. I also cannot speak to the illustrations in this book as, sadly, my review copy did not include them.
Matriculation by Elle Katharine White – 3 – A well written, interesting story with a pretty cool setting. Unfortunately, it reads like the prologue of a novel so there is little satisfaction in reaching the end.
Hikayat Sri Bujang, or, The Tale of the Naga Sage by Zen Cho – 3 – This story had good imagery and the plot wasn’t bad, but the main characters could have really been any creatures (including humans with powers) with little to no change in the story.
Yuli by Daniel Abraham – 4 – A really interesting use of metaphor here and the switching back and forth between real life and a game did a great job of creating the magical realism aspect of the story.
A Whisper of Blue by Ken Liu – 5 – Fascinating. The themes of memory and forgiveness combined with the world building style create a poignant, beautiful, and utterly believable of tale of modern day dragons.
Where the River turns to Concrete by Brooke Bolander – 4 – The rarer dragon use and good pacing made for a really interesting story that felt like a real myth. The only downside is that I think the switching between time periods detracted slightly from the climax of the tale. Still one of my favorites, with a strong ending.
Habitat by K. J. Parker – 3 – A unique take on dragon reproduction will keep this a memorable story. However, the slight choppiness to the writing and a mildly generic main character keep this one at 3 stars for me.
Pox by Ellen Klages – 3 – I liked the imagery and magical realism aspects of this story. However, I don’t know how well this was will do for every reader as some of the best parts of the story rely on you having already read A Wizard of Earthsea.
The Nine Curves River by R.F. Kuang – 5 – Beautiful. The use of the 2nd person felt very natural within the context of the story, which was well-paced with memorable characters. The poignant ending was what made this really stand out for me.
Lucky’s Dragon by Kelly Barnhill – 3 – This is a cute story that would make a great middle grade read. Unfortunately in short story form the 2nd half of the tale is executed and wrapped up far too quickly.
The Exile by JY Yang – 3 – The concept and the unique dragon abilities are what I liked most about this tale, and what keep it memorable. However, the personal part of the story and the main human character were both a little generic for me to give this four stars.
Except on Saturdays by Peter S. Beagle – 2 – “Stunning, ancient and/or powerful creature is, for some inexplicably reason, interested in some generic, middle aged man. Cue waxing poetic and an obligatory “made love” scene.” While the language use and pacing are both adequate (which is why I don’t give it 1 star), its easily the most generic piece in the collection.
La Vitesse by Kelly Robson – 4 – Robson does a good job with keeping you on the edge of your seat for this one, even when she’s flashing back to previous events. The action was smoothly written and easy to visualize while reading.
The Long Walk by Kate Elliott – 5 – This is the 2nd anthology this year I’ve read where Elliott has been a stand out. She has a real talent for natural world building and memorable characters in such a short amount of space.
Cut Me Another Quill, Mister Fitz by Garth Nix – 2 – Everything about this story makes it feel like you are reading a single, random chapter in a book. It begins, slowly, by one character reminding another character of the “who, what, where, when, and why” of what the are doing, which read like a summary of a previous story or chapters. Then once the action does start, all of the “twists” are pretty obvious. Finally, the words end with the story completely unfinished.
Hoard by Seanan McGuire – 3 – This one is a unique take on the idea of dragon hoarding with a believable modern day setting. I keep it at 3 stars though, because the writing, characters, actual plot, and pacing are all simply fine.
The Last Hunt by Aliette de Bodard – 2 – de Bodard is probably my favorite new author so far this year, so I was pretty disappointed that I could not get into this tale. The combination of nonstop action and kind of confusing, vague “explanation” of why that action was happening made the story or characters difficult to become invested in.
We Continue by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky – 4.5 – This is probably the most unique of all of the stories here. It was a setting that not in a million years would I have ever thought “This – but dragons!” Having two writers to write the separate species point-of-views really helped make them distinct and accentuated the disconnect the two characters were having in a powerful way. This was a complete story that I was satisfied with at the ending, but also made me interested in reading more about the world.
Small Bird’s Plea by Todd McCaffrey – 2 – This one had some really interesting character concepts, but I felt like it was trying to do too much at once. The story doesn’t actually really explain anything and I left it with more questions than answers. Finally, I don’t think this is a good example of a dragon story, since the end is just “oh by the way here is a dragon for no real reason – could literally be any flying animal with no affect on the story.” Maybe this was supposed to be a dragon creation tale? I don’t know.
The Dragons by Theodora Goss – 3 – I know this one is technically poetry, but it read more like a story and the style added to the overall whimsical feeling of the tale. This one is probably the most feel good of all of the pieces.
Dragon Slayer by Michael Swanwick – 3 – This is the other story where I thought “okay we’re kind of pushing what is or is not a dragon story here.” I could even argue there is no dragon in this story, just a human who looks like one for a scant handful of lines. The story itself is not bad, but I honestly don’t know why this particular one was chosen for a dragon anthology, especially when Swanwick has a variety of dragon shorts to choose from.
Camouflage by Patricia A. McKillip – 3 – An interesting story (and dragon concept) that is hindered slightly by its messy, unclear ending.
We Don’t Talk About the Dragon by Sarah Gailey – 3 – An interesting concept, but the repetitive nature of the writing style chosen here, even though it serves a purpose, keeps this one from being one of the better tales.
Maybe Just Go Up There and Talk to It by Scott Lynch – 3 – I don’t normally like Lynch’s writing, but this was a pretty neat story. The modern day setting was easily believable and the ending is a good example of an open-ended short story.