Just as a I did for Frederica by Georgette Heyer, I wanted to write a book response for it. If you're wondering, a book response is a very casual book review (to me, anyway). There's nothing particularly in-depth about this response; I'm only commenting on the stories and poems I liked. There were a few I didn't enjoy, and I didn't feel like bothering with criticism or outlining why I didn't like them. So without further ado, let's dive in!
'Matriculation' by Elle Katharine White - this is a cyberpunk-esque, magic-meets-science, urban fantasy. The featured dragon is a mechanical marvel of invention, responding to code-like commands swiped onto its touchscreen-like control panel. There's also a charming gargoyle, a magical university with vaguely threatening undertones, vampires who are surprisingly kind for how mercenary they are, blood as currency, and themes of grief and loss and sacrifice throughout. I was immediately hooked, and I'd love an expansion into this world, as it closed on a bittersweet cliffhanger.
'A Whisper of Blue' by Ken Liu - this is also urban fantasy, but more recognizably our world, and deals with grief and love and loss, the unsettling maybe-mercy, maybe-horror of dragons who eat memory to generate their energy/fire, and the question of stagnation vs. peace, and if peace is worth so much loss of growth. It's written as a series of interviews with different characters and perspectives, which is always a fun format.
'Where the River Turns to Concrete' by Brooke Bolander - this reminded me a bit of Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away! I really loved the main character, Joe, despite his gruesome and cruel job. He's an amnesiac enforcer working for a mob boss...but in truth, he's the spirit of the river in the town, and his boss didn't take him in out of the kindness of his heart. Joe is a taciturn giant of a being, and despite his job, also very gentle. I was moved by his sweetness with Rita and her son Lucian, as well as Joe and Rita's history with each other, which is slowly revealed, and their budding romance. This story had themes of humanity vs. monsterhood, love, loss, death, found family, environmentalism, and justice.
'Habitat' by K. J. Parker - this is high fantasy, set in a world of warring nations where dragons are an infection and also, quite literally, infect others, like zombies! The scene where the main characters confronts a dragon and calls it by his brother's name, revealing this twist, will haunt me for a long time. This story also covers themes of monsterhood vs. humanity--where the monstrous beasts are not just the dragons, but the people who act so draconically--as well as class issues, the wanton destructiveness of warfare, and environmentalism. I also liked the narration style, which switched from past to present to add dimension to the significance of the scenes.
'Pox' by Ellen Klages - this seemed like a little slice of life, fictionalized autobiography of Ellen Klages as a child, exploring San Francisco's Chinatown with her aunt. It features a lot of delicious food and dragons of the decorative architectural variety, but at the very end there's a treat of a surprise: a real dragon and hints of real magic!
'The Nine Curves River' by R. F. Kuang - this is one of those stories that'll stick with me for a long time. It's written in second person, which I have a fondness for, but it's directed at the main character's younger sister. It's a story of sisterhood, the complexity of jealousy and love, the tangle of grief and hope, and about sacrifice. The worldbuilding is gorgeous, but the ending is bittersweet. I was disappointed that the elder sister didn't step in to take her sister's place as sacrifice, especially as she was furious that no one was doing so, but maybe the priests had declared it had to be the youngest sister for the sacrifice to be accepted? It made me very sad, but I remain hopeful that the younger sister got something beautiful and wonderous out of her sacrifice.
'Lucky’s Dragon' by Kelly Barnhill - I loved this! It reminded me of some of my favourite middle grade fiction. I loved the crossover of science and magic, the question of whether Mrs. Hollins was a fairy or an alien (or maybe they amount to the same thing, in the world) and the whole idea of being endragoned! This covered themes of grief, depression, and emotions in general, and delved into the idea of names being intrinsically tied to souls, such that something can grow a soul if it is named.
'La Vitesse' by Kelly Robson - this was so gripping and intense! It featured the more traditional sort of dragons, which are huge, dangerous predators. I felt so guilty by the end for suspecting Rosie of willfully endangering everyone just as Bea had, when in the end Rosie was a real and clever hero. It just goes to show how reputation--fairly or unfairly earned--and presentation can prejudice us against others.
'A Final Knight to Her Love and Foe' by Amal El-Mohtar - a stunning poem about love and monsterhood. The last two lines struck me right in the heart. 'I love you living / And I love you dead.'
'The Long Walk' by Kate Elliott - Oh, I adored this one, and it's another that will linger with me for a long time. It's all about personhood and womanhood, choice and transformation, quiet bravery and overlooked and undervalued strength! It also featured demons and ghouls as well as dragons. It was magical and the worldbuilding felt so solid and very cool. I also loved that Asvi, the protagonist, is an older, if not precisely elderly, widow and how heroic she was. I'd reread this again and again.
'Cut Me Another Quill, Mister Fitz' by Garth Nix- this was as funny and disarming as it was intended to be. I want to dive into this world of knights and sorcerous puppets and dragons who take human shape. It reminded me a bit of Discworld actually! Very fun! Slightly ridiculous!
'Hoard' by Seanan McGuire - I absolutely loved it! It was all about a literal dragon of a foster mom who would eat anyone for the safety and wellbeing of her kids. I'm a huge sucker for both found family and nontraditional dragon hoards, which was something I first read about in Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons series.
'The Wyrm of Lirr' by C. S. E. Cooney - this poem about a transit dragon and freedom and chains and the power of one little sorcerous girl. I needed to read this a few times to grasp it all, but I was enchanted by it nonetheless.
'The Last Hunt' by Aliette de Bodard - this is a haunting and disorienting and fascinating story, and poetic too, featuring terrible, terrifying beasts that are alien and magic, both and neither, and the humans and dragon spirits they enslaved. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world of horror and desperation, where these monsters experiment on humans and have them take part in a terrible race. It features the power of language and prayer and determination to survive, and it ends on a beautiful hopeful, triumphant note.
'We Continue' by Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirsky - this story had dragons the functioned like bees, with a hive and a queen, gatherers and warriors! Collector, a dragon and one of the dual POVs, adopted a human boy named Jacq, and raised him from when he was younger. Neither understand each other's language, (Collector seems to repeat fragments of human speech in a way she understands but Jacq doesn't), but both love and cherish each other. This is a post-apocalyptic tale in two forms: this is an alien world and Jacq is a descendant of the humans who landed on this planet thousands of years ago. For Collector, this is a post-apocalyptic tale because her queen has died, and a new queen has taken over the hive, which means the old queen's gatherers are dying and meant to make room for the new gatherers. Though a little melancholy, this was a beautiful story.
'Small Bird’s Plea' by Todd McCaffrey - this is a story where sci-fi meets tradition, meets animal parable, meets fairy tale. It's the story of language and cultural conflict and of hope in the new generation to save the older generation from their destructive ways. It featured a five year old girl being very brave and the last alien child, and how together they might just save their people...by becoming a dragon! I loved it!
'The Dragons' by Theodora Goss - this is a story written as a poem, set in a world very like our own only with dragons like stray cats. The protagonist has my dream life, to be honest, becoming a lighthouse keeper with a gang of pet dragons, doing art.
'Dragon Slayer' by Michael Swanwick - I dream of writing in this style! It's a fairytale, featuring wizards and time travel and a girl pretending to be a boy, and crossing timelines, and betrayal, and love!
'Camouflage' by Patricia A. McKillip - for dark or light academia fans, or fans of magical schools in general, this is a fun story, featuring time travel as an exam, octopus dragons, and the real magic all along being the questioning, curious, humble mind!
'We Don’t Talk About The Dragon' by Sarah Gailey - this made me almost tear up at work. It's about anger and fear and hunger and secrets and bravery, and I loved the explanation as to why dragons love gold. It also features domestic/familial violence and abuse, so warning for that, but it has a happy ending both for the dragon and the protagonist!
'Maybe Just Go Up There and Talk To It' by Scott Lynch - I was primed to dislike this, because it starts with the protagonist, Emery, getting discharged from the military circa 1945, and military stories are not appealing to me in the least. But it wasn't really about that. It was about a slow apocalypse via dragons and bureaucracy, and it was heart-wrenching but ended with some hope for the future of the human race.
'A Nice Cuppa' by Jane Yolen - a poem on dragons and tea, from the perspective of a dragon. Threateningly charming! A great endcap to this anthology.
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