Iron Dragon's Daughter

Iron Dragon's Daughter

by Michael Swanwick

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The changeling's decision to steal a dragon and escape was born, though she did not know it then, the night the children met to plot the death of their supervisor... With these words, author Michael Swanwick ushers us into a remarkable realm of darkest fantasy, erotic dreams and industrial magicks - equaling the undiluted power and uniqueness of vision of his Nebula…  See more details below


The changeling's decision to steal a dragon and escape was born, though she did not know it then, the night the children met to plot the death of their supervisor... With these words, author Michael Swanwick ushers us into a remarkable realm of darkest fantasy, erotic dreams and industrial magicks - equaling the undiluted power and uniqueness of vision of his Nebula award-winning masterwork Stations of the Tide. Jane is a human changeling child coming of age in a world of violence and monsters. An abused outcast, she toils unceasingly alongside trolls, dwarves, shifters and feys in the dank, stygian bowels of a steam dragon plant - helping to construct the massive, black iron flying machines the elvan rulers use for waging war. Young Jane's days are bleak and her future seems hopeless - until a cold yet tantalizing inner voice whispers to her of high lakes, autumn stars...and freedom. The voice leads her to a junkyard dragon - old and broken, kept alive by hatred and a still-unsatisfied thirst for blood. And he promises to help Jane escape, if she will, in turn, help him to fly again. But untold wonders and terrors both lie beyond the factory gates - where a true name is a weapon...and erotic temptations wait to corrupt a young girl already hardened by life's cruel inequities. A quick mind and a taste and talent for thievery will sustain Jane, however, on her strange and arduous journey from slave to student, from alchemist to avenger - while drugs and dreams transport her Elsewhere, on fleeting trips to a stolen reality. And through it all, the dragon lurks in the shadows - filling her head with violent visions, drawing her into a web of unknown plots and unseen forces. And, ultimately, at his controls, the changeling will confront the powers that have always ruled her life - seeking impossible answers through the obliteration of history...and the end of all things.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Swanwick's nihilistic tale features a human changeling who tries to make her way in a cutthroat society that mirrors contemporary life. While the players are elves, dwarves, lamies and other ``magickal'' creatures, they could be 20th-century juvenile delinquents and power politicians in a society ruled by caste snobbery, drugs, a mall culture and child labor. Determined to end her slavery in a steam dragon plant, the young human Jane escapes with the help of a rusted old dragon hulk named Melancthon. Thereafter, she goes to school disguised as a fey in order to learn the magic necessary to repair the ravages inflicted on the dragon by time and battle. But the misfit Jane finds school horrifying, and she turns to shoplifting to gain friends. She falls in love with a young man destined to be the annual sacrifice; when she loses her virginity, her usefulness to Melancthon as a magic-maker is ended. After her lover's tragic death, Jane is taken under the wing of a power-hungry elven lord, Galiagante. Eventually she joins Melancthon once again as he sets out to destroy the Universe. Nebula Award-winner Swanwick ( Stations of the Tide ) develops a powerful, yet dark and hopeless fantasy that should forever shatter charming illusions of Faerie and its folk. (Jan.)
Library Journal
When Jane, a human changeling, steals a magical steam dragon to escape the factory/prison that has been her home, she embarks on a life of freedom and normalcy in a world of timeless shopping malls, alchemy classes, and high school ``wicker'' queens--only to find that her stolen dragon has other, bigger plans that may change her life forever. Swanwick ( Stations of the Tide , Avon, 1992) brings his particular brand of elan to the fairy world, where high tech and magic are interdependent and where the denizens of folklore include leather-clad werewolves, half-elven pilots, and brash dwarven mechanics. Combining cyberpunk's grit with dystopic fantasy, this iconoclastic hybrid is a standout piece of storytelling.
Kirkus Reviews
Seething, brain-bursting, all but indescribable upper-world coming-of-age yarn, from the author of a string of splendid novels (Stations of the Tide; Griffin's Egg, etc.). A world where magic and technology both work exists at a much higher energy level than our own. Here dwell kobolds, imps, elves, demons, dwarves, and other fantastical beings—including Powers who poach souls from our world to use as slaves in the upper world. One such wretched waif, Jane Alderberry, is forced to toil in a vast, terrifying factory that manufactures stealth-attack dragons using both magical and technological components. One particularly evil dragon, pretending to be an inert wreck, desperately wants to escape the factory but cannot fly without a pilot. He arranges for Jane to discover him; but, before agreeing to help, Jane requires the dragon to reveal his true name and thus yield Jane a measure of power over him. Together, then, Jane and Melanchthon escape. Jane, beginning to grow up, attends a supernatural version of high school, then studies alchemy at college; her boyfriend, whom she can never quite bring herself to trust, is a serial incarnation, forever giving his life to save hers. Eventually, Jane comes to the attention of the Powers, and, following the Teind—a dreadful, goddess-inspired winnowing-out of the world's inhabitants—falls into despair, just as Melanchthon announces that he intends to assault the goddess's Spiral Castle, a puzzle-palace located in a set of yet higher dimensions. At once a gleefully bizarre parody and a dazzlingly imaginative tour de force, flawed by the rather distant, uninvolving narrative and an ending equivalent to "then she fell out of bed andwoke up." Withal: enormously impressive, rich, dense, demanding.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.26(w) x 8.01(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

Freedom! Jane thought. She rocked back on her heels and imagined Stilt flapping off clumsily into a bronze. green autumn sky. Her thoughts soared with him, over the walls and razor wire and into the air, the factory, buildings and marshaling yards dwindling below, as he flew higher than the billowing exhaust from the smoke stacks, into the deepening sky, higher than Dame Moon herself. And never, oh never, to return!

It was impossible, of course. Only the dragons and their half-human engineers ever left the plant by air All others, workers and management alike, were held in by the walls and, at the gates, by security guards and the hulking cast-iron Time Clock. And yet at that instant she felt something take hold within her, a kind of impossible hunger. She knew now that the idea, if nothing more, of freedom was possible, and that established, the desire to be free herself was impossible to deny.

Down at the base of her hindbrain, something stirred and looked about with dark interest. She experienced a moment's dizzy nausea, a removal into some lightless claustrophobic realm, and then she was once again deep in the maw of the steam dragon plant, in the little dormitory room on the second floor of Building 5, wedged between a pattern storeroom and the sand shed, with dusty wooden beams and a tar paper roof between her and the sky.

"So he'll get to fly away," Dimity said sourly. Her tail lashed back and forth discontentedly. "So what? Are we supposed to kill Blugg as a going-away present?"

Rooster punched her on the shoulder for insubordination. "Dolt! Pimple! Douchebag! You think Blugg hasn't noticed? You think he isn't planning to make an offering to the Goddess, so she'llkeep the change away?"

Nobody else said anything, so reluctantly Jane asked, What kind of offering?"

He grabbed his crotch with one hand, formed a sickle with the other, and then made a slicing gesture with the sickle. His hand fell away. He raised an eyebrow. Get it?

She didn't really, but Jane knew better than to admit that. Blushing, she said, "Oh."

Okay, now, I've been studying Blugg. On black foundry days, he goes to his office at noon, where he can watch us through the window in his door, and cuts his big, ugly nails. He uses this humongous great knife, and cuts them down into an ashtray. When he's done, he balls them up in a paper napkin and tosses it into the foundry fires, so they can't be used against him.

"Next time, though, I'm going to create a disturbance. Then Jane will slip into his office and steal one or two parings. No more," he said, looking sternly at her, "or he'll notice."

"Me?" Jane squeaked. "Why me?"

"Don't be thick. He's got his door protected from the likes of the rest of us. But you—you're of the other blood. His wards and hexes won't stop you."

"Well, thanks heaps," Jane said. a But I won't do it. It's wrong, and I've already told you why." Some of the smaller children moved toward her threateningly. She folded her arms. "I don't care what you guys say or do, you can't make me. Find somebody else to do your dirty work!"

"Aw, c'mon. Think of how grateful we'd all be." Rooster got up on one knee, laid a hand across his heart, and reached out yearningly. He waggled his eyebrows comically. I'll be your swain forever."


Stilt was having trouble following what they were saying. In his kind this was an early sign of impending maturity. Brow furrowed, he turned to Rooster and haltingly said, "I. . . can't fly?"

Rooster turned his head to the side and spat on the floor in disgust. Not unless Jane changes her mind.

Stilt began to cry.

His sobs began almost silently, but quickly grew louder. He threw back his head, and howled in misery. Horrified, the children tumbled over one another to reach him and stifle his cries with their hands and bodies. His tears muffled, then ceased.

For a long, breathless moment they waited to hear if Blugg had been roused. They listened for his heavy tread coming up the stairs, the angry creaking of old wood, felt for the stale aura of violence and barely sup pressed anger that he pushed before him. Even Rooster look frightened.

But there came no sound other than the snort of cyborg hounds on patrol, the clang and rustle of dragons in the yards stirring restlessly in their chains, and the distant subaudible chime of midnight bells celebrating some faraway sylvan revelry. Blugg still slept.

They relaxed.

What a shivering, starveling batch they were! Jane felt a pity for them all that did not exclude herself. A kind of strength hardly distinguishable from desperation entered her then and filled her with resolve, as though she were nothing more than an empty mold whose limbs and torso had been suddenly poured through with molten iron. She burned with purpose. In that instant she realized that if she were ever to be free, she must be tough and ruthless. Her childish weaknesses would have to be left behind. Inwardly she swore, on her very soul, that she would do whatever it took, anything, however frightening, however vile, however wrong.

"All right," she said. "I'll do it."

"Good." Without so much as a nod of thanks, Rooster began elaborating his plot, assigning every child a part to play. When he was done, he muttered a word and made a short, chopping pass with his hand over the candle. The flame guttered out.

Any one of them could've extinguished it with the slightest puff of breath. But that wouldn't have been as satisfying.

Copyright ) 1994 by Michael Swanwick

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