Sunday, December 18, 2011

REVIEW: The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick

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 that I was introduced to, and felt like I had really been there. I mean, what else could a fantasy novel be lacking, right?

Well, character and plot continuity. The main character, Will, was just not believable at all. There was no character development as the story progressed. No question – Will changed throughout the book. But the changes were abrupt and almost random. Will didn’t grow with his experiences – his personality and even skills changed to fit the needs of the current situation. There was no shred of the original young man who began the story in a small village. The story just followed different people who happened to also be named Will. How did he keep acquiring all of those new skills? And why was Esme in this book?

Then there was the plot, which wasn’t really a plot. It was more of a collection of different scenarios thrown together, without any common thread, other than the fact that they followed this ever-changing character Will. I like a bit more of a story arc. If I wanted to read a series of unrelated events, entertaining though they were, I’d go get a book of short stories.

The big plot-twist at the end? Couldn’t possibly have been more obvious.

With the character and plot disappointments in mind, I do recommend The Dragons of Babel to any true fantasy fans. It is a well imagined world, and I particularly like the treatment of magic, not as something mystical that needs to be explained, but as a reality of life that just is. And like I’ve said, the writing itself is excellent – I just wish the same care had been put into the character and story development.

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