The Book of Dragons by Jonathan Strahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I like anthologies, but a lot of them are hit-and-miss for me. The most important component of a successful anthology is the editor, and their ability to solicit or find stories that avoid the cliches more or less inherent in any anthology. (There are only so many topics, after all.) John Joseph Adams is one outstanding editor, and Jonathan Strahan is another.
Strahan takes the subject of dragons, which has been done so many times you'd think he would just be beating its desiccated corpse, and turns out an anthology that's full of fresh, surprising new takes on an old theme. We have mechanical, magic-powered dragons, we have ghost dragons, we have alien "dragons" similar to a hive of bees, we have dragons with octopus genes that enable them to camouflage themselves, we have dragons born from the minds and spirits of older women discarded by their society after the death of their husbands, we have parasitic dragons that propagate like zombies, we have dragons that can fold themselves into human flesh....the sheer variety and originality of the stories Strahan managed to produce delighted me, as well as the book's overall quality. Only one or two stories were average: the rest ranged from good to excellent.
"Pox," Ellen Klages. At first I thought this story was a non-fiction slice-of-life essay of an actual event in the author's life, and the "dragon" would be metaphorical. That is, until the last page when the story took a delightful left turn into fantasy/magical realism.
"The Long Walk," Kate Elliott. This is the story mentioned above, about dragons reborn from the minds and spirits of abandoned widows. It's the longest story in the book, a fierce feminist take on older women reclaiming their lives.
"Maybe Just Go Up There and Talk To It," Scott Lynch. This is the final story in the book, and I think the best. It's the tale of an invasion of dragons starting shortly after World War II, and the soldier who fights the beasts for twenty-five years, only to finally realize the dragons are going to win and humanity needs to take a different direction.
This is a hefty book, with twenty-nine stories and poems, but each one of them is worth your time. If you've ever thought nothing more can be said about dragons, crack this book open and be proven wrong.
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