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The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
The Dragon Book Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Author: Jack Dann (Editor), Gardner Dozois (Editor)
Never before published stories by New York Times bestselling authors Jonathan Stroud, Gregory Maguire, Garth Nix, Diana Gabaldon, and others. — Whether portrayed as fire-breathing reptilian beasts at war with humanity or as noble creatures capable of speech and mystically bonded to the warriors who ride them, dragons have been found...  more »
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ISBN-13: 9780441019205
ISBN-10: 044101920X
Publication Date: 9/7/2010
Pages: 448
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.

3.8 stars, based on 4 ratings
Publisher: Ace Trade
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover
Members Wishing: 0
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PhoenixFalls avatar reviewed The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy on + 185 more book reviews
This was an almost uniformly bland collection, which disappointed me, because I quite enjoyed the previous anthology in this series, Wizards. There weren't any stories that I hated, or even particularly disliked, but there were also precious few that had any spark whatsoever; I finished the anthology yesterday, but can't recall more than four of the nineteen stories without consulting the table of contents. And even the best stories were still significantly flawed. Part of the problem, I suspect, lies in how little creativity the authors approached the subject of dragons with -- all of the dragons but two were of the typical European fire-breathing variety (the two holdouts were an ice dragon and a sea dragon), and most were presented as monsters and the thrust of the story was in finding that they are intelligent and not intrinsically inimical to humanity. There was one story that took the full-fledged companion animal fantasy route, but even that treatment brought nothing new to the table. So overall I was a tad bored throughout, and can't recommend this collection unless you are a completist about either dragons or one of the authors included herein.

"Dragon's Deep," by Cecelia Holland: This story was one of the most moving of the collection. It presented dragons in a very classical feudal European setting, and the plot was entirely predictable, but the feudalism was presented realistically rather than with the usual benign Disney-fied fairy tale atmosphere, and the protagonist's conflict of loyalties in the climax had the potential to be wrenching -- if it hadn't felt rushed. The story could have blossomed at novella-length, but the ending was just too abrupt to work.

"Vici," by Naomi Novik: This story will likely be of interest to fans of Novik's Temeraire series, as it details how the Roman military first came to use dragons in combat, setting the groundwork for the English dragon corps; unfortunately, that's all the story does. It's cute, and has one or two slyly humorous moments, but doesn't really go anywhere.

"Bob Choi's Last Job," by Jonathan Stroud: This is one presenting dragons in a modern setting, and it does have a Chinese dragon in it, but that felt like window dressing -- it was totally irrelevant to the story. But then, the whole story felt kind of irrelevant -- it might make sense in the larger scale of some novel by Stroud, but without that background I didn't get the point. I didn't understand how the world worked, nor did I care; I predicted the decision the protagonist made at the end, but never understood why, or again, why I should care.

"Are You Afflicted with Dragons?" by Kage Baker: This story is the reason I bought the anthology; Baker's short story in Wizards was absolutely brilliant, and made me go out and buy all of her novels, and they did not disappoint. So I had high expectations for another short story set in the same fantasy world, and while this story didn't meet those expectations, it wasn't bad. It returns to some characters from The Anvil of the World and shows how they deal with a minor dragon infestation of their hotel; it has enough of Baker's wry humor to be enjoyable, and the ending twist is well set-up and executed, but it was overall fairly lightweight.

"The Tsar's Dragons," by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple: I wanted this story, which adds dragons to the Russian Revolution, to come to more than it did. It was dragged down by too much literalness, and far too surface-oriented a reading of history. There was no atmosphere, no sense of desperation, and the villains managed to be neither villainy (which might have worked here) nor well-rounded human beings (which I think is what the authors were going for). Too ambitious, I suspect -- all the story made me want was someone else to do it better.

"The Dragon of Direfell," by Liz Williams: This was probably the most unique treatment of the dragon; it also had the feel of a well-developed alternate world behind it, enough to make me wonder if it's set in the same world as one of Williams' novels. Unfortunately, neither the characters nor the plot was interesting, and other than earning a snort for a line in the closing paragraph it left no impact.

"Oakland Dragon Blues," by Peter S. Beagle: This story is probably the strongest technically in the collection; Beagle was clearly in complete control and the story delivers everything it should. It's another that places a dragon in a modern setting, and it has some humor and a nice metafictional twist. If the collection had been more interesting I would have quite liked it. Unfortunately, it was just too slight a story to carry over 400 pages of "meh."

"Humane Killer," by Diana Gabaldon & Samuel Sykes: This story spends a very long time doing very little, then has the climax occur entirely off-screen. It is probably the story I liked least, simply because I felt I invested quite a lot of reading time for very little payoff. It's another straight-forward medieval dragon & world, and the characters were all loaded down with too much backstory that never came to anything.

"Stop!" by Garth Nix: This is the second short story I've read by Nix, and both struck me as ugly and pointless. It's very short, and places its dragon in what appears to be a nuclear test zone during WWII, but there were too few details for me to be sure -- about the setting, or any of the characters, or why on earth I was bothering to read it. It also uses "f--ing" a lot, and that isn't my elision, which annoyed the hell out of me. If it's a YA story and you don't believe you can use "fuck" in a YA story, then don't use it; the dashes are a copout that simply draws attention to your hypocrisy.

"Ungentle Fire," by Sean Williams: This story had the potential to be brilliant, but needed a firm editorial hand. It was set in a steampunk alternate Australia, and there were some beautiful images and beautiful character moments. Unfortunately, the ending was a total clunker, because Williams felt the need to spell out all the stuff he implied so gently just moments before. If it had ended one page earlier I would have loved it, but lines like "He was aware now that the emotional pitfalls he had been skirting during his quest. . ." really dragged it down.

"A Stark and Wormy Knight," by Tad Williams: This wasn't a bad story, but it kept reminding me of a blog post by John Scalzi in which he talks about the difference between clever and good. This was merely clever, unfortunately it didn't make me laugh, so it didn't work for me. The title is a very good sample of what the whole story is, so if you like the title you'll probably like the story, and if the title leaves you cold, well, there's a lot more of that coming.

"None So Blind," by Harry Turtledove: This is a Milieu story if ever I've seen one; I suspect it's set in one of Turtledove's alternate histories, but haven't read any of them so I can't be sure. It never ends up being more than a travelogue, and the constant repetition that in this world the tropical savages are blonde and the colonial oppressors are dark(er) get really obnoxious, mostly because there's never any reason given for WHY the tropical people would be light-skinned and the people from the cold-climate would be dark-skinned. It also hammers the titular point home, which I did not need.

"JoBoy," by Diana Wynne Jones: This story felt like it was aimed very young. The setting is barely established at all (I believe it's a modern English city) and the characters get only slightly more treatment; the whole story revolves around a very simple mystery and then stops.

"Puz_le," by Gregory Maguire: This was one of the few stories that managed to develop an interesting atmosphere; the dragon and the magic creepy and intriguing. Unfortunately, it read like chapter 1 of some novel or, worse, a treatment for a novel. The instant that the tension was at its highest, another character came in, broke it, and basically said "I have so much to tell you!" The end. It made me want to read more, but simultaneously resent Maguire and therefore want to swear him off forever.

"After the Third Kiss," by Bruce Coville: This very heavily fairy tale influenced story was doing moderately interesting things that looked rather like Robin McKinley's brilliant Deerskin -- until it said outright "no, that isn't happening here," at which point I got bored and started paying less attention. Then (possibly because I was paying less attention, but maybe not) the ending came out of nowhere, and was heavy-handed to boot.

"The War That Winter Is," by Tanith Lee: This is my favorite story of the collection. It is lyrical and epic and (unusual for this collection) exactly the right length. It feels rather like a Norse Saga (this is the one with the ice dragon) and if it weren't for a slight stumble on the dismount I would have loved it unreservedly; as it is, it too fell into the trap of spelling things out just the slightest bit too clearly at the end.

"The Dragon's Tale," by Tamora Pierce: Like Jones' story, this one felt aimed just a little too young for my taste; it has a first-person dragon narrator that veers a bit closer to precious than I would have liked. Other than that, it works well enough; I assume it's set in one of her established worlds (maybe even with already established characters?) and so I felt I was missing some of the references, and the resolution is too easy for the amount of jeopardy the characters were placed in, but it's a decent enough example of a short story for pre-teen readers.

"Dragon Storm," by Mary Rosenblum: This is the story with the sea dragon, and the only one that does the full companion animal fantasy treatment; it suffered from being entirely predictable and having an ending that was too easy for the jeopardy set up just before.

"The Dragaman's Bride," by Andy Duncan: This final story ended the collection on a strong note. It was set in Appalachia in the 1930s and felt authentically Southern -- the Dragaman was not a European dragon transplanted wholesale, but rather what a dragon myth might have evolved into in a new environment (I know little about Southern folktales; maybe it *is* authentic) -- and the mix of fantasy and history was perfectly balanced. (Also perfectly horrifying.) I didn't love the voice, and the villains got off incredibly easily, but this was a good story, and one of the few that got me interested in seeking out the author's other work.


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